Though loneliness has become something of a hot topic in the media, I wonder how many of us would feel comfortable to say it out loud to another friend or loved one, “I’m lonely.”
Many of us are reluctant to admit to others when we feel lonely.
I know from my own life and working with quirkyalone/quirkytogether people that loneliness has particular dimensions for people who have been selective in their choices and spent many years being single.
We don’t talk about the loneliness of that path all that much–for example the loneliness of staring down a weekend with no plans.
We wind up feeling even more lonely alone when we don’t see our experience reflected back to us or discussed.
Laura who has been following quirkyalone for 15 years and I first talked over Skype to discuss the focus of our conversation.
We settled on the theme the loneliness of single shame, or of believing something is wrong with you if you have been single for years or just longer than you want to be.
I highly recommend you listen in. Generally when I do conversations with others on single shame it’s healing for someone out there.
This conversation can help you prepare for those awkward moments on dates when someone asks you how long it’s been since your last relationship.
Even more I hope this intimate conversation can help you feel more at peace as you gradually rid yourself of those nagging “there’s something wrong with me” voices in your head.
I remember evading questions on dates when men would ask me, So how long has it been since your last relationship? I felt marked–like something was wrong with me–because I had been single for years.
I’ve since helped many clients who have coped with similar feelings of shame so I know quite well by now single shame can be quite a “thing.”
In our conversation, I talked about my own experience of working through single shame to the end point of owning my story as a discerning quirkyalone and about my experiences helping others along that journey.
The interview is called “From Single Shame to Owning Your Story as a Discerning Quirkyalone.”
Our interview will be aired Saturday, February 23, 2019.
Laura’s series TRANSFORMING LONELINESS: Follow Your Heart’s Longing into Connection, Belonging, and Love will be available FREE from February 19 – 26.
If you read my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics you may remember the section on R.O., or Romantic Obsession. That part of the book was one of the most fun to write, and one of the most emotionally resonant, or so I heard from readers. It turns out that many of us quirkyalones have fallen into our share of R.O.
Here’s an excerpt to jog your memory:
“It’s a little-known fact, but quirkyalones, for all their independence, also have a tendency to be swept away when they get close to love. We are passionate, romantic characters, and that click happens so rarely that the search for a partner can take on the character of a holy grail. If you only meet someone who stirs your interest once every two years, this is bound to be an epic event. If things don’t go according to plan, or even if they do, well, this can be difficult. We sometimes plunge into romantic obsession, or R.O.”
I experienced my first and deepest R.O. 25 years ago when I was in college. So I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on and writing about R.O. (That’s a lot of years!)
Since I launched my coaching practice in 2012 I’ve talked to a lot of women who have fallen into R.O. states for longer than they would like. Many quirkyalone women came to talk with me about a variety of life issues and decisions, but often the pain of the R.O. was the trigger for getting support. They wanted a way out of persistent obsession with someone who had told them in ways, subtle or not, that they were not interested in continuing a relationship.
Since I know R.O. to be a hidden topic for quirkyalones (because after all we seem so self-assured and confident, so not prone to obsession!) I recorded this unscripted video sharing what I have learned from my own R.O.s and helping others . I called the video the Hidden Messages of Romantic Obsession because many years later, I can see that usually an R.O. masks or distracts us from a deeper issue. It’s never really about the person we are obsessing about–it’s about something else for us to heal.
This is a big topic for many of us so if you have thoughts to share please do so in the comments!
P.S. I’ve been making more videos lately. This new twist has happened because I’ve become good friends with a genius Turkish filmmaker and fellow Buenos Aires expat Tan Kurttekin who is helping me make videos about pussywalking. (What the hell is she talking about with pussywalking?)
photo by Natalia Brasil / Cura Fotagrafia / taken at our Self-Love and Sensuality Women’s Retreat in Florianopolis, Brazil, November 2017
Today is International Women’s Day and I want to take this opportunity to recognize the fierceness of women who don’t settle.
–The women who left relationships that offered security but didn’t allow them to be who they are and won’t tolerate anything less
— The women who want a big love with a true equal and are willing to wait for it beyond the socially marked “expiration dates” of 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, on
— The women who prioritize their own self-development
— The women who slog through online dating and stay positive! (And/or take breaks knowing Tinder, GreenSingles, and Happn will be there when you come back.)
— The women who want hot sex and aren’t afraid to own or explore their sexuality
— The women who want respect and equal pay at the workplace, who negotiate for themselves, and support other women to get fairplay too
— The women who are speaking up in the #metoo movement about sexual violation and the women who are working on their own healing privately and quietly
— The women who dare to create their own #happilyeverafter whether they are with a man or not
Not settling is not just about not settling for less than what you really want in love or in bed. Not settling is also not settling for a president or a legislator who disrespects women or a boss who routinely harasses women on the team. Not settling is about being in alignment with yourself and your own principles. . . it’s also about not settling in your relationship with yourself!
So it’s with a special bow to this non-settling spirit that I wish you a happy International Women’s Day!
A big shoutout to the men who truly support this kind of questioning, open-minded, needle-pushing women. We need you. I hope you men get that feminism is a big tent. Feminism is a movement to liberate all of us from confining gender roles and any residual idea that women are inferior to men.
PS. A little bit of levity about not settling: A very dear male quirkyalone friend shared this link with me. If you want some inspiration about not settling in online dating, follow this Instagram account idratherdiealone.
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.
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
International Quirkyalone Day is an alternative to Valentine’s Day that I started way back in 2003. It falls, of course, on February 14. It’s just a coincidence. Well, that’s our story and we’re sticking with it.
Since then Quirkyalone Day been celebrated in more than 40 cities around the world as an inclusive holiday to celebrate all forms of love, including, of course, self-love! Self-love is the foundation for all your relationships, ultimately–with friends, family, and a romantic partner.
If you are new to the concept and the holiday, here’s a video to get you up to speed.
Let me highlight also that in 2017 it’s more important than ever to recognize that Quirkyalone Day is a celebration of independence.
This year I encourage to celebrate your independent voice and encourage you to use it to speak out!
Political leaders such as Elizabeth Warren are exhibiting this independent streak–and they deserve our support.
I look at the CNN video where Elizabeth Warren talks about being silenced when she tried to read Corretta Scott KIng’s letter on Jeff Sessions and I see people making nasty comments about her that are so similar to the 25-year campaign against Hillary. “Not an Elizabeth Warren fan. I find her loud, abrasive and a liar.” My sense is that any woman who is outspoken is going to get this kind of blowback from men and women. When are people going to wake up to their gender bias?
Just keep on trucking. Just keep on showing up with your quirkyalone spirit.
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)
The election is now just five weeks away. It’s impossible to avoid the news about the candidates (whose names in this sentence, anyway, shall go unmentioned), but in the end, we are not just voting for individuals, we are actually voting for our future. And more than that, this election is a chance for us to recognize our own power.
What kind of world do we want to live in? Do we continue to promote policies that reflect a vision of the world that used to exist, or do we start to create a world that reflects who we are, a country were now unmarried women are actually in the majority? The question is, do we wake up as a group and start to exert our influence on public policy (which then affects our possibilities–can you take time off from work to care for your sick single aunt, can you get birth control paid by your health insurance)?
Rebecca Traister, author of All The Single Ladies, wrote an important essay in New York magazine on the rise of the single American woman voter as the most potent voting bloc in the country, back when Hillary and Bernie were still slugging it out in the primary. Now, we have the opportunity to make Rebecca right but only if we actually vote.
“. . .how much of an impact single women will have on this election and on public policy in the years to come depends, in large part, on whether they begin to recognize their growing political power. Part of this is simply a matter of getting out the vote. According to Page Gardner, in 2016, “for the first time in history, a majority of women voters are projected to be unmarried,” but going into the previous presidential-election season, nearly 40 percent of them had not registered to vote. . .
The independent woman, both high earning and low earning, looks into her future and sees decades, or even a lifetime, lived outside marriage, in which she will be responsible for both earning wages and doing her own domestic labor.
This is the new social compact that she requires: stronger equal-pay protections that guarantee women’s labor will not be discounted because of leftover assumptions that they are likely to be supported by husbands; a higher federally mandated minimum wage, which would help to alleviate the burdens of poverty on America’s hardest and least-well-remunerated workers; a national health-care system that covers reproductive intervention, so that those who want to terminate pregnancies or have babies on their own or wait until they are older to do so are able to avail themselves of the best medical technologies; more affordable housing for single people, perhaps subsidized and with attendant tax breaks for single dwellers who choose to live in smaller, environmentally friendly spaces; criminal-justice reforms that address and correct the injustices of our contemporary carceral state; government-subsidized day-care programs; federally mandated paid family leave for both women and men who have new children or who need to take time off to care for ailing family members; universal paid-sick-day compensation, regardless of gender, circumstance, or profession; increases rather than continual decreases in welfare benefits; reduced college costs and quality early-education programs. Come to think of it, these policies would benefit lots of people who are not single women as well.
None of this is easy, or likely to happen quickly, especially not with a Republican-led Congress. But it is the beginning of a new kind of relationship between American women and their government. Single women are taking up space in a world that was not designed for them. They make up a new republic, a new category of citizen. If the country is to flourish, we must make room for free women, and let go of the economic and social systems built around the presumption that no woman really counts unless she is married.”
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 a few self-aware men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through Solo Chica, Sasha is creating a whole new way for women to travel solo with confidence and local contacts to support them for transformative cultural experiences.
Want to stay in touch? Sign up for the Sasha Cagen Weeklyish under the newsletter tab.