Taking Care

It can be said with great certainty that 2016 is likely going down in history as one of the shittiest years on record, and there are still 4 1/2 more months to go before it’s officially over.

Full disclosure: I’m making this declaration while laying on one of the softest beds, donning a terry-cloth robe etched with the majestic “lion head” logo of the Ritz-Carlton, following a nice hot bath taken upon returning to a sexy room – with its stunning view of Philadelphia’s City Hall – after an amazing scallop dinner at one of the most charming and kitschy restaurants I’ve seen in some time. Bottom line is: I’m not exactly suffering at this moment.

And yet here I am bitching about this shitty year.

Why is it so shitty, you ask? Where do I come off making such statements when I’m in a position not many folks will have an opportunity to experience? What’s made me take such a strong stance so prematurely?

To put it “Blountly,” this year has seen more death, more injustice, more ignorance and more animosity among the human race, and that has shaken my comfort level to its core and threatens the peace I’ve strived to maintain in my later years. Prior to holing myself up in this luxurious abode for a self-care timeout, I was angry with everyone; white people, black people, police, pundits, politicians and Pokémon players.

I’m sure there are many of you, who share similar frustrations with some – or all – of the above, and have reeled from the passings of notable, iconic and influential people such as Prince, David Bowie, Elie Wiesel and Muhammad Ali amongst so many others. Each were heroes in their own right, who weren’t afraid to stick up for themselves and for those who didn’t have the privilege of their platforms. They took care of us – even though we couldn’t take care of them.

But one loss that has affected me the most is one in which the care was mutual and reciprocal. Two months ago today…I lost my father.

While this loss wasn’t unexpected…it still fucking hurts.

Sure, I can say that he’s not suffering anymore. That Alzheimer’s took him long before the day his body lost its desire to fight. That I no longer have to suppress the urge to burst into tears in front of him when he couldn’t remember who I was. It’s what I’m supposed to say, right?

But for every vacant gaze, there’s a moment of recollection that brought an unbreakable smile and a glimmer of hope. And that’s why it hurts. Because that hope is now gone…along with my very first love.

And, in spite of everything, I’m just here trying to get that hope back within the realm of reason. That lust for life and “joie de vie” that’ll get me through the rest of what’s turning out to be an absolute shit-show of a year. Because, with everything that’s happening – and I do mean everything – it is now more important than ever that we all find our joy and our strength to get through the rough waters of violence, racial and global tensions and divisive banter across all party lines. Because, hopefully, at some point, the love and care we have for ourselves and others will drown out the hate.

Sooo…whatever your method: Vacation…staycation…meditation…medication (kidding) – remember that self-care is essential for the duration. Roads can be bumpy, and trips can take longer than we expect. But if we’re trying to navigate in a broken-down vessel, our destinations become damn-near impossible to reach.

Take care.

 

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Designing a Decade

Here we are again, folks…the end of another year!

Now, before we start sighing “finally,” let’s just take into account that we are still here, and still able to fully appreciate the luxury we have of seeing it come to an end, and the promise of new beginnings (or just upgraded versions of your existing situation).

As we know, not everyone has made it this far.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it has been quite the year. One that has overseen the loss of a romantic relationship, a dear friend/mentor and a first cousin with faulty hearts, my father’s left leg, my patience for pushy real estate brokers and the elder/health care system, a piece of my back tooth, thousands of dollars in moving costs, and occasionally my sanity.

For a moment I was about to say my faith, but that wouldn’t be completely true. Because even when shit got a little too real, I knew it would figure itself out. I just didn’t know when!

But amidst those losses, there were huge gains not only in my faith, but in the power of love, family, friendship and loyalty in its truest form.

These lessons from the school of hard knocks came just in time for my fortieth birthday, which I quietly – and happily – celebrated fifteen days ago with one of my fabulous girlfriends. After treating me to dinner, she then lavished me with ridiculously expensive skincare that I’m afraid to use because I will fall instantly in love with it, and become one of those women who spend the financial equivalent to childcare on preserving her own youth. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Because, even though I look damn good for my age, I can always look better! (She says with tongue placed firmly in her cheek.)

And so, as I sit here…fresh from spending the holiday bouncing from Pennsylvania to Virginia with my crazysexycool family, where I ate a lot, drank even more and laughed when I wasn’t in pain from a recent dental visit…I’m contemplating what I want my new year and my fourth decade to look and feel like.

…and the one word that keeps coming back to me is: “loyalty.”

It’s that feeling of knowing you are loved and supported in your best and especially your worst times. That feeling of knowing help is just a message, a phone call or even just a “look” away. That feeling of not being judged by your mood, your circumstances or your lifestyle. That unconditional love that tells you, “you’re crazy, but I can’t imagine life without you,” or “this isn’t one of our best days, but let’s regroup and make the next round better,” and “we’re not always going to agree on everything, but I’m always going to be here.”

Only that kind of security and confidence comes from loyalty, and this year, I felt it. Breathed it. Bathed in it. Draped it all over my skin, and wove it into the fabric of my being.

It has taken me four decades to fully appreciate that word and its meaning. I’d begun mentioning it in passing when someone asked me what I looked for in a guy, but I’ve since come to understand how much it means to me beyond intimate relationships.

It resonates when I’m rewarded at work with verbal and financial acknowledgements, and when my colleagues tell me to take as much time as I need when my father made an unexpected trip to the emergency room during what was intended to be a short trip to Savannah, and give me more exciting and challenging assignments because they value my work and insights. Or bring me lunch. Or a bottle of wine after a breakup. Or an L.L. Bean fleece jacket. Or kickass tickets to watch tennis and/or “The Peanuts Movie.” (Okay, I love my job.)

It resonates when I see a woman, whose plan was to spend her retiring years traveling the world with the man she loved, spending her days making doctor and medicine runs for him, helping his daughter navigate through the messy process of it all, and taking shifts to feed him in a nursing home…while hoping he remembers her name.

It resonates when his family who live nearby hasn’t visited in the five years of his affliction.

It resonates when I contemplate going an hour out of my way to Harlem to pick up a prescription, because the women at the pharmacy always pleasantly acknowledge me by my name.

It resonates when friends and family spring into action when I have a slight meltdown on Facebook, and help me not only find a place to live, but keep me laughing, liquored up, and thoroughly entertained through some of the hardest months I’ve had in some time. Just because.

It resonates when I consider who’s worthy of my time, energy and my own loyalty going forward.

I’m realizing now that everything has come full circle. Historically, I’ve been drawn to – and spent most of my professional life in – industries that mostly thrive on strong and fruitful relationships and loyalty, so it was only a matter of time before I caught up and realized that I, too, require them to thrive personally.

But seriously…Don’t we ALL?!

So, tomorrow night, when the ball drops into the year 2016, it is my intention to continue loving – and being true to – the skin I’m in from this decade until my last, and reciprocating all the love, support and loyalty that has allowed me and my loved ones to thrive in the chaos of 2015.

Are you with me?

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror

Forgive me for the unusually long hiatus.

It’s not that I’ve been extremely busy (although I kinda was), nor was it the absence of a topic of discussion. I think we all can agree that over the last few months, there’s been nothing but discussions.

Yet, every time I sat down to write about it, I found myself in that unenviable position every one of us has suffered at one point or another, where I just could not.

But now, I’ve been inspired by — of all things — television.

Unlike my younger days, where I sat for hours transfixed to a television with the intensity of a One Direction fan, these days I’m often out of the loop on most things that show up on most-watched lists, and the equivalent of “water-cooler” conversations.

Like a number of people from my generation, I watched TV not only to pass the time, but to transport myself to imaginary worlds where people had money, adventures, superpowers and even cool, talking cars. As a kid in a single parent home, I also got comfort from seeing the family comedies, where there was a mom and a dad who worked together to teach their kids valuable lessons in comedic ways.

As time passed, those shows – “Dynasty” “MacGuyver” “Wonder Woman” “Knight Rider” “Good Times” “The Brady Bunch” “The Cosby Show” “Family Ties” et al – disappeared, and in their place were shows where real people engaged in shameless acts of desperation for attention, exposure and seemingly lucrative payoffs.

That’s when I tuned out. The fantasy of my childhood shows at least gave me hope of a better life than the one I was currently living. The “reality” was just a depressing commentary on the extreme measures people will take to make their own fantasies come true.

And then Shonda Rhimes came on the scene… Making both history, and shows I could somewhat relate to or, at the very least, enjoy.

From “Grey’s Anatomy” to my current addictions “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder”, Rhimes and her team of writers created stories that teetered on both lines of fantasy and reality. In the case of Grey’s and Scandal, the shows would mix raw and genuine human emotions with the fantasy of teasing happily ever after scenarios that often go horribly awry. A couple who pined for each other after parting ways would reunite, only to have one die in a plane crash. A taboo love affair with the President of the United States gets the bizarre blessing from his wife.

I mean, really, how the fuck is that real life?

But this past Thursday, Shonda and her team outdid themselves, when “Scandal” took a much-needed turn from a nonsensical plot line to deliver the most heavy-hitting episode in its history. In it, they tackled a subject that had gripped the country — myself included — for the last six months: The Ferguson incident.

For anyone who’s been living in a self-imposed bubble, the story of unarmed teenager Mike Brown being gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has been widespread news. What had already began as a tragedy with the death of an unarmed youth, escalated further by the police department’s refusal to discuss the case until they had found evidence — which would later reveal to be false — that the victim had committed a criminal act which, in their opinion, justified the shooting. The public’s frustration with the police and media seemingly depicting minority victims as criminals had reached its peak, sparking riots in Ferguson and a wave of protests around the country. Everyone from pundits to presidents in other countries sounded off on what had become a firestorm and a black-eye (literally) for the United States of America.

…So Shonda and her team took every sound bite, every perspective and every character and caricature that has lent a voice to this chapter in American history, and lumped it into one very emotional hour of television drama.

In her version, the father of a slain son becomes his protector by sitting with the body while holding a shotgun until justice has been served to clear his son’s name. The police chief hires a black crisis control consultant to mediate the situation before it escalated to chaos. The president, still reeling from the death of his own son, agonized over the shooting, but is advised not to make any public statements due to the hotbed issue.  The crisis consultant has her team investigate the truth, which revealed the shooting officer’s guilt. The officer is then arrested and the victim is cleared. The father is then taken to the White House by the crisis consultant to meet the president and weep in his arms. Credits roll as the episode is neatly tied up with a bow.

In between all the fantasy, there were bits of reality: The anger of the community over another unjustified physical and character assassination. The charismatic, boisterous and occasionally manipulative black activist who uses rhetoric under the guise of good intentions, which ultimately encourage further destructive and counterproductive crowd behavior. The politician who jumps in to give their two cents in hopes of bolstering their presence and agenda with the fifteen minutes of media fame they’ve been allotted. The police chief who’s more concerned with the image of his department than the situation at hand, or the respect and trust of the people he’s supposed to protect and serve by resolving things peacefully and professionally. A crowd of people who are justifiably angry over their mistreatment, but unaware of how their own actions and reactions further alienate them from the sympathies of society and, sadly, justice. The police officer whose resentment over the attitudes of the community and his own deep-seeded disdain for their ethnicity severely clouds his judgement and makes him a ticking time-bomb in a job he clearly should not have. And a president who’s damned if he does say something, and damned if he doesn’t.

As stated before, I’ve had difficulty putting into words what I’ve been feeling over the last few months. As I’ve listened and watched people sound off on this, the Bill Cosby allegations and even stupid shit like a reality show based on sorority girls, I’ve wondered — sometimes out loud — how African-Americans pick and choose what they’re outraged about.

For instance: Why is it hilarious when women act a damn fool for ratings and lauded for their ambition in one show, but dragged to hell and “read to filth” because they wore letters in another? Why is it funny when Kanye West slut-shames Amber Rose for being an exotic dancer, when his wife had sex on camera with another man and built a fucking family empire from it? Speaking of “Empire,” why are people up in arms over the character depictions on a show that is a fictional scripted drama, when we grew up watching soap operas with absurd and borderline psychotic plot lines? Why is it okay for rap artists to spit lyrics about putting “molly” in a woman’s drink, but when it’s revealed that everyone’s favorite TV dad did it in real life, suddenly the women are liars? Where is that same outrage that prompted the now famous #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, when a video of black people fighting goes viral? Where is the same call for action when another black youth or innocent bystander falls victim to revenge and/or gang violence, or just a kid with anger management issues from being abused at home or school?

Maybe it’s just too hard to see ourselves, or own our hurtful behavior, beliefs and habits when they’re reflected in so-called “art” for public consumption and scrutiny. It’s easier to point fingers and talk about what any other race but our own have done to embarrass or degrade our culture.

We spend a short month reminding ourselves how wonderful and majestic our history is; how many people of color changed the world by inventing groundbreaking medical and scientific techniques and countless household items, and blazed trails that have set legal and human rights precedents. How important it is to recognize and support black achievement. We quickly — and loudly — derided the Academy Awards for “snubbing” the movie “Selma”and its director, Ava DuVernay, citing the monumental impact of the event on which the film is based.

But for all the pomp and circumstance we built around the historical significance of honoring the movie on the fiftieth anniversary of the march itself, upon closer inspection, we failed to notice that the box office take of “Selma” was significantly less than the average Kevin Hart movie. Meaning we also snubbed the movie by not supporting it in the theaters!! In fact, we snubbed it more by not doing so, sending a far more dangerous message about our hypocrisy than an Oscar nod ever could.

As much as it makes people uncomfortable, I’m happy there are now shows that rip the band-aid off of the once taboo subject of talking about race and the issues we all face. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Jewish. African. Arabic. All. Of. Us. Be it discrimination, or even quiet-as-kept subjects like sexual abuse and incest — which was covered in a searing episode of “How To Get Away With Murder” (and may earn Cicely Tyson another award) — we need to see ourselves and our stories so we can maybe… hopefully… start the conversations and actions that create necessary changes.

Understandably, people get rattled when the lines between fantasy and reality get a little blurry, when all they want is to escape to a world where they can be entertained. But more and more, society is showing us that we can no longer look away or tune out when something doesn’t appease us.

If we can hold sports, entertainment and political figures accountable for their “scandals”, surely we can do the same for our own… Can’t we?

It all starts by looking in the mirror…

Lost and Found in Newark

Last Friday and Saturday, a mass of thousands gathered in Newark, New Jersey, for Oprah’s “Life You Want” weekend.

I was one of them.

Along with Madame O, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell and Iyanla Vanzant united to share insights and stories that were sometimes humorous and oftentimes heart-wrenching — all for the purpose of guiding us to discover our true callings.

Having only watched a handful of her talk show, barely reading my “O” magazine subscription, and catching just a few programs on her OWN network, it would seem utterly confusing as to why I would sign up for this, but that’s precisely why I did.

I had spent a good portion of my life avoiding Oprah’s influence, yet admiring the results of it. That she had reached this status of mogul/actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist from humble and terrifying beginnings made her more of a mythical figure to me as opposed to someone I could relate to, so I never fully invested in seeing her work full on.

Being so averse to seeking or acknowledging a need for help at the time, it never occurred to me to indulge in something that could bring me comfort, joy or at least help me understand that what I’d gone through was not something that was exclusive to my story. Millions of women (and a smattering of men) understood more than I did that Oprah Winfrey hadn’t just built a media empire, but a fellowship of people who all wanted to improve their circumstances, and at least be uplifted and entertained while discovering they weren’t as alone as they thought they were.

And so I joined them… and it turned out to be a pretty damn good decision.

As she took the stage of the Prudential Center on Friday night — resplendent in a royal purple gown that flowed with her every step and voice booming with confidence — this woman, affectionately (and appropriately) called “the queen of all media”, shared with her adoring subjects stories that excited and disturbed us. She peppered her accounts of personal, academic and professional achievements with painful truths of being raped, pregnant, discriminated against, insecure about her body and her desperation to get what turned out to be an Oscar-nominated part in “The Color Purple”. The more she spoke, the more this “mythical” creature became a human being to me — even becoming more so when she admitted to wanting people to think she’s nice while her man, Stedman, reminds her that she is not. (I think I loved that part more than most of her reveals.)

I left that night feeling both energized from her truths… and a little freaked out by seeing my baby picture among the hundreds floating across the screen behind her. In a sea of thousands, that small acknowledgement endeared her — and her team — to me more.

When Saturday morning arrived, Mark was ready to help us clear our racing minds, and guide us through a meditation that left a hush in a room with thousands of women. (Let that sink in… this crowd came to work!!) And while he had our attention that morning, he had our full respect and admiration later, when he was asked to reveal something in his life he will never regret and — without missing a beat — answered “Susan” as he gestured to her in the audience. Yes, there was a collective and audible sigh.

When Elizabeth came to the stage, it was clear she was a rock star to the throngs of screaming women who had read her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, and instantly contemplated leaving everything behind to discover themselves by spending a year globetrotting. It also didn’t hurt that she was played by Julia Roberts in the movie adaptation. Basically, she was the woman everyone wanted to be if they felt Oprah was too high a standard. At least, until they spent the weekend realizing they could be whichever one they wanted to.

Liz shared her journey from being in a “picture-perfect” but unfulfilled marriage, losing everything she had in the divorce, feeling desperate, hopeless, and taking a leap of faith by spending a year finding her passion and purpose and never looking back. Being one of the few who hadn’t read the book or watched her on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday”, I found her story and candor refreshing and oddly familiar, having walked away from something similar to marriage, losing everything and making discoveries of my own… albeit with less stamps in my passport. Or, for that matter, a book deal.

Rob Bell came to the stage using his humble and unorthodox spiritual charm to explain how expansive the universe was and how we each contributed to it, and I found myself wondering if he and Neil DeGrasse Tyson collaborated. When our minds weren’t being blown by the math and science used in comprising the distance and speed of planets, we were putting our lives into perspective after stories about his late grandmother and his family life gave us pause to appreciate the value of each moment and breath… and Montblanc pens.

What Gilbert is to the dreamers, Iyanla is to those (like me) who live in a “dream-like” state.  Those who fall under that category ignore or fail to grasp reality and/or anything that requires work to create or maintain something of true value. Given that she spoke from experience — having gone deep into debt after refusing to pay her bills and being left by her husband — it only seemed natural and logical to explore some crucial life choices after that talk!

It all brought me back to my last post, where I shared a list born from personal mistakes, and the takeaways that I’ve just recently begun putting into perspective and practice in the last year and a half. The events of this past weekend not only validated the importance of those lessons, it mandated my need to fully embrace them with an open, authentic and uncluttered heart and mind every day.

It helps to know there are people in my corner committed to making sure I do. A lot.

Coming off of seeing Audra McDonald’s heartbreaking portrayal of Billie Holiday during her final days in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”, and looking into a crowd including many older than myself, it was strangely comforting knowing that there’s no statute of limitations on dealing with demons, and conversely, it is never too late to change or improve your life. It’s also okay if you don’t have your shit together by a certain age, as long as you consistently make the effort to actually have it together.

All clever marketing, cool light shows, dance parties, abbreviated exercise classes, crying jags and feel-good missives aside, this experience genuinely renewed my appreciation for life and all its quirks, blessings and benefits. It also reinforced the importance of putting my own happiness and peace of mind first in order to be the kind of person who can ultimately contribute something more helpful than harmful to others.

Kinda like that analogy about putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others during a plane emergency.

Or… you know… becoming a beloved television and movie star who encourages people to read by starting a book club and founding a magazine, build schools and funds scholarships for underprivileged kids, and runs a network and a tour that encourages people to be their best selves.

Kind of a no-brainer which life I choose…

Life Choices

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Robin Williams, but when news spread yesterday of his death, I — like millions of other people around the world — felt the loss.

In an age where increased celebrity access give admirers a false sense of connection, it was never a tabloid magazine, countless gossip items, or a reality program that ingratiated Robin to fans young and old.

It was him.

For decades, his body of work was only eclipsed by his larger-than-life personality and generous, childlike and lightning-quick spirit. His energy and ability to transform from one character to another in the blink of an eye was not only mind-blowing, it was at times daunting. One was always left with a sense of wonder after watching him perform. Not to mention a hurting stomach from laughing so hard.

He was an alien, a sailor, a struggling dad reinventing himself as a beloved nanny, a teacher, a poet, a soldier’s reminder of home away from home, an aspiring doctor with a humorous bedside manner, a refugee from Neverland, a comic reliever who raised money for the homeless and others in need, and an all-around stand-up guy.

Sadly, he had demons he couldn’t conquer, and this is where he became more familiar and connected to the world. This is when he became a human being… and just like us.

The tragedy struck me not only as a fan of his work, but also as someone who is familiar with what it’s like to struggle with depression.

From a confused and angry youth peppered with abuse and abandonment, to a confused and simply frustrated adulthood, my most recent bout was a little over three years ago. At the time, I was struggling to find steady work and income — having been part of a massive layoff one year prior — and a permanent place to live after ending a toxic long-term live-in relationship months before. My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after losing both his and my late grandmother’s house, and I was now responsible for his financial affairs and welfare in addition to my own — using what was left of my savings to pay his debts since he had no money left to pay them. As my savings dried out, I was forced to use my retirement fund to supplement my income when temp jobs weren’t enough, and was subsequently hit with a massive tax bill.

An incredible sister-friend generously gave me her room to stay in while I got back on my feet, and it would be where you could find me on any given day… sobbing uncontrollably and contemplating taking my own life.

In spite of those circumstances, I chose to continue my life, and became more curious to find out where it would all lead. Eventually, leads from friends led me to more consistent, and permanent, work — which allowed me to afford a room in a great apartment in Harlem, where I live to this day with a few spirited women. Over time, I’ve settled into my role as my father’s “caretaker”, but every now and then his disease finds ways to remind me of the inevitable. I consciously took action to create a life that had value beyond the tangible kind; one where I had more control of — and accountability for — my personal joy. 

Things got better from there.

We now return to the year 2014, where I’ve now discovered a fulfilling career that feeds my passion, a relationship that’s beyond anything I’d imagined, and a new and improved lease on life. 

In the last month and a half, I’ve experienced my first cruise, my first trip to New Orleans (and introduction to its cuisine), my first Essence Music Festival (which is where I had my first live Prince experience), and this past weekend I finally went skydiving for the first — and only — time. I also got a promotion at work, which led to my first bouquet of roses — ever — via my boyfriend.

In a way, this Summer of “firsts” signifies the beginning of a new life… a “rebirth” in a sense… one that never would have been possible had I chosen to end it only a few short years ago.

Which brings me back to Robin. While I cannot imagine what he was going through (or maybe I can) when he chose to take his life, it is my hope that in doing so, he has saved the lives of others who live in silence… dangerously close to making the same choice.

The sad truth is, it usually takes a tragedy to spark a necessary conversation. Amongst the tremendous outpour of emotion over the past 24 hours from those still grappling to understand how someone who brought so much joy could be in so much pain, there have also been an increasing number of those speaking out about their own demons.

If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is that there is always another choice. A better one.

I wish he’d made that one…

In Remembrance of Maya

As the world mourns the passing of Maya Angelou, many — like myself — have taken to paying tribute by posting photos and any specifically endearing quotes and/or passages that she has gifted us with through the years. Others shared personal stories — where they had the honor of speaking with her, or simply being in a room where she’s spoken.

Like the passing of Nelson Mandela only a few months ago, the loss of Maya Angelou signifies the loss of another legend; an icon who selflessly used her own life experiences to encourage others to see beyond their own challenges and disadvantages to — as she put it — rise to be and do greatness.

It is that distinction which makes her an inspiration and a jewel worldwide. While some writers get so immersed in their own stories that they borderline self-absorption, she always shared her story as a testament to the strength and character she embodied and embraced — always encouraging others to do the same.

Many who knew her, knew of her, or encountered her were always left indelibly touched, inspired, and empowered. Her spirit and her words were generous and hopeful. She made our hearts smile, even as we cried for her struggles and found our own renewed purpose in her stories of perseverance and resilience.

In memory of a woman who treated all people equal (and with love), and made it safe to proclaim all women bold, sexy and especially phenomenal…

Thank you, Dr. Angelou.

Where the Heart Is

When it comes to the subject of love, I’d developed a fairly warped perspective over the years.

Some may have used the word “cynical” or perhaps “jaded”, even.

Like most people (with a vagina, whose estrogen levels are only slightly bested by oxygen), I had bought into the belief over time that all the Disney fairy tales, Harlequin novels and anything that wreaked of romance was the definition of true love. In other words, it didn’t exist unless there were grand gestures (preferably without “Jazz hands”).

To be fair, like many many disillusioned people out there, I’d come from a broken home and didn’t know better. Unfortunately, sex ed only taught you what things were and where they go, but glossed over the part about what emotions and actions should accompany any of it. Recipe for disaster…

Undoubtedly, it was by sheer fortune that two amazing women came into my life and provided me with one of the greatest examples of the truest, most unconditional love I’d ever witnessed. It was through watching them on their journey from courtship, to friendship, to relationship, to hardship (with acceptance) and finally partnership that I realized the true meaning of what it’s like to find your soul mate.

Much to the excitement of myself and a few dozen friends and family — and after nearly ten years, countless gatherings, and a couple of freshly passed laws — my friends El and Chris decided to make it official. When they asked me to officiate their ceremony, I didn’t think twice (well, once I found out it would be the second, non-traditional “symbolic” version, I didn’t).

During our consultation with the minister, I was asked why I’d agreed to do the ceremony, to which my response was simply “Because it’s them“. What had been unsaid, was that after observing them over the years, I learned the very thing that was missing from my education during my upbringing…

Through them I learned that beyond passion, there has to be compassion. That patience and tolerance are nonexistent terms when you’re with someone who “gets” you. That the right person will not try to “make you better”, but will instead bring out the best in who you already are, as you ideally would for them. That friendship takes any relationship to a higher level, and if you don’t like the person you’re with, loving them — authentically — is an uphill battle.

Of course, I also became more cognizant of these things while experiencing my own ups and downs in dating. The past year alone had been an invaluable awakening, as it found me coming to terms with my genuine feelings, and determining that settling was no longer an option. After coming off of two long-term pairings (the bulk of which were both miserable), I’d made a choice to go with my gut and walk away from anything that made me unhappy or uncomfortable.

Very often, men and women stay in relationships they should long have ended for the sake of “making things work,” because that’s what we’ve been told throughout history by people who, in retrospect, probably had numerous affairs and whose vested interest likely had monetary motivation. Or religious connotations. Or Tyler Perry.

Not only did the union I’d be a part of show me differently, but I’d come to see and feel it for myself thanks to a smart, confident, funny, wickedly charming and all-around beautiful man who has helped me make sense of it all in just a short period of time.

Tonight, while listening to a Deepak Chopra meditation about “Finding Love”, it felt as if — for the first time in my life — I was ahead of the class. As Deepak explained how having love within allows you to have a greater love for others, it resonated in ways I couldn’t imagine just a couple of years ago, but was keenly aware of now. Once I stopped fighting my heart and following it instead, it led me to a place that has been so effortless and pleasure-filled, that I’ve decided to allow it to guide all my other moves going forward. (Although asking it to choose winning Lotto numbers might be a stretch.)

Thirty-eight years later, all the intake of books, movies, songs, articles, blog and social media posts, soap operas and “reality TV” simply left me with an overstuffed — yet strangely malnourished — perception of something that comes quite naturally when you don’t force yourself to feel it.

When you think about it, most of the greatest love songs and stories are written by people who, in real life, suck at maintaining relationships. I imagine it’s because they write what they want love to be and what they think love should be, and the rest of us are drawn in by the semi-mutual feeling, and/or the “misery loves company/you’re not alone” aesthetic that comes with a particularly tear-inducing piece of work. Matchmakers and love experts are often single themselves, yet we look to them for guidance with our “happily ever after”.

(I’m reminded of a saying: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”)

This occurred to me when I found myself at an event having a conversation with two women; one was a lovely older woman in her fifties, whose husband was on the event’s committee, and would occasionally pop over to chat with his wife of over 30 years. The other was a self-proclaimed “relationship expert” in her late twenties, who had a blog touting many followers, and was — you guessed it — single. At some point, as the younger woman spoke about her relationship theories, the two of us gave each other knowing looks, and waited for her to get bored with us in order for her to move on and allow us to have the conversation we were meant to. It was that moment, when the decision was made never to take relationship advice from anyone who has not been happily married longer than two decades.

Life changing decision… trust.

And although I’ve stopped taking advice, I remain a constant pupil when it comes to the study of relationships. I understand that when you think you have nothing else to learn, that’s usually when you make the most egregious mistakes because you’ve taken something and/or someone for granted. (Clearly, I’ve dated a few “experts”.)

As I end this post at an ungodly hour, I do so with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to El and Chris, and to my “Jersey Boy” for showing this woman — whose vivid imagination often leads her astray — what it’s like to be part of something very real.

They’ve inspired me, in ways they may never know, to instead follow my own heart…

Until it stops beating.