After a long while she spoke very softly. “Is it true that I can have a baby now?”
“Sure,” said Frieda drowsily. “Sure you can.”
“But . . . how?” Her voice was hollow with wonder.
“Oh,” said Frieda, “somebody has to love you.”
There was a long pause in which Pecola and I thought this over. It would involve, I supposed, “my man,” who before leaving me, would love me. But there weren’t any babies in the songs my mother sang. Maybe that’s why the women were sad: the men left before they could make a baby.
Then Pecola asked a question that had never entered my mind. “How do you do that? I mean, how do you get somebody to love you?” But Frieda was asleep. And I didn’t know.
-(excerpt from) Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
Just in time for Valentine’s Day there is an app on Facebook that predicts your perfect marriage date based on the median age your Facebook friends have gotten married. Based on the test my target date for marriage was 4 years, 9 months and 8 days ago. I guess I have failed in the romantic love/marriage department.
The test reminded me of the looks of concern and scorn I get from some family members at holidays when I arrive home, again, without a boo-thang on my arm, and when a fish dream doesn’t reveal that I been “f*cking on the low” (Drake). No one says anything but I can sense their bewilderment, concern, disbelief and disappointment that cute and smart as I am I can’t get/keep a man to save my life. If they asked I would tell them that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to forge a relationship over the years, though I can’t say that marriage has been my goal. Before I can think long-term or permanent I need to get past the “does he really want me” stage of a relationship, if you can call long-distance flirting, every-other-day texting, and quarterly “surfboard” sessions wanting me. I have routinely and regrettably been attracted to men who are beautiful but dishonest, sexy but selfish, caring and callous. (Ever thought you were in a relationship or heading towards one with someone and then realize, when you’re multiple months in, that the person you thought you were getting in a relationship with is already in a relationship? Yeah…that…and who knew that shit happened past high school?)
My grandmother has told me many times over that I can do bad by my damn self, so I don’t desire a relationship because that is what I am “supposed” to do. Most days I am unsure if I desire a relationship at all, especially marriage. After struggling with self-esteem issues (not altogether separate from my singleness, sometimes), and witnessing love relationships that leave much to be desired, I am ambivalent about romantic love. I suspect it is part defense-mechanism and part fear of rejection or disappointment but I don’t go around fantasizing about falling/being in love like I did when I was a teenager. I don’t peruse baby books or bridal magazines or doodle my name in cursive adding the last name of the boy I like. My grown woman version of that is cautious. I cry when my friends get engaged and celebrate when they get married, but I don’t have expectations of role-reversal.
Once I realized that socially what was seen as positive, self-assured independence in my twenties has somehow shifted to being desperate and pitiful in my thirties (because I am a woman, and therefore less desirable as I get older)… I had to regroup. I had to resist. I had to rebel. One way of doing that has been embracing my singleness now as much as I did ten years ago. It doesn’t always go over well.
My post-thirty singleness and my lack of concern therewith led my father to recently question my sexual orientation. Our face-to-face dialogue quickly moved from pleasantries to accusations.
“Are you dating anyone?”
“You’re getting on up there, you know.”
“Don’t you want to get married?”
“I’m not invested in marriage.”
“Don’t you want to have children?”
Our conversation felt robotic because we have had several versions of it in the past.
“Are you a lesbian?”
Except for that part.
I thought about his question and how problematic it was that in his mind a successful, single black woman post-30 is either too-hard on a brothah (and/or “too picky” to use his words) or not checking for men altogether. I found it interesting that not once did he concede the possibility that I had been and would be willing to be in a relationship with a man who was trying to do right.
“No, I am not attracted to women.”
I could tell by the way he looked at me that he didn’t believe me. And I didn’t care. If it made him feel better to think that his heterosexual-identified daughter was secretly dating women (rather than just being contently single), sobeit. He, like society, wants my singleness (as in lack of a husband) to be my fault. He, like society, assumes that since I did everything “right” (went to school, got degreed, did not get pregnant, etc.), I should be the poster child for good love. Not so much. He is assuming that my mind, my independence, my intelligence, my quirkiness and my feminism is too much or not enough. If I was in my twenties I would have internalized that bullshit.
I don’t find my so-called “love” dilemma to be explicitly heterosexual. I have nonheterosexual friends who are also single (without a partner). I don’t find my so called “love” dilemma to be confined to those of us who are unmarried. I have married friends who wish they were single. The truth of the matter is loving someone outside yourself is a hard thing. But the harder negotiation is loving yourself when it seems you are unlovable to anyone else.
One of the benefits of being post-30 and single is that I recognize the power of self-love. I have learned to love myself deep over the years. I love myself so much that when the wrong person walks out of my life, I celebrate! I love myself so much that I find ways to affirm my(damn)self or surround myself with folk who I know love me. I love myself enough to know that platonic relationships are just as significant as sexual ones. I love myself enough to wait for what’s right instead of settling for what’s wrong. And I love myself enough to know that being single is not a failure. And, being single in some ways, is as much a choice as being in a relationship. And I love myself enough not to let anyone shame me into feeling like a failure or loser because I don’t have a partner on February 14.
What the Facebook predictor failed to ask is “do you want to get married?…is marriage your goal?” My answer to those questions is simple but not uncomplicated. Most days the answer is no. But there are cultural cues that try to brainwash me into believing that traditional heterosexual marriage and biological children is synonymous with grown womanhood. Grown women get married and make babies. But you know the other thing grown women do? Live their lives fully and without regret. 365 days a year.
Like Claudia and Pecola (the characters in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye) from the opening quote, I don’t know how to make someone love me. But I do know how to love myself. Fiercely. #selfloveisthebestlove