Relationship Insomnia

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do? The answer to that question obviously changes as we go through this thing called life and deal with the various upsets, trials and tribulations it brings.  As we mature and grow, things become easier or harder for us to do.  But, if I had to answer the question right now, my answer would have to be: break someone’s heart.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve always been the type to put my best foot forward – give it the real boy scout try – so that if I get to a point where I feel like I’ve given it everything I’ve got but it still isn’t working out, I’m able to break ties and move on with clear eyes.

But there’s something different this time. I think that perhaps this time is the first time I’ve truly loved the person back.  That it’s the first time I could see that he was giving it the good ‘ol boy scout try just as much as I was – more even. The first time I’ve had to remind myself that I’ve given it everything I have because I keep coming up with reasons to stay.  And the first time I’ve had to convince myself that it’s time…

My sister hates watching movies with me because I always figure out the ending half way through, ruining it for her. And something similar happens for me in relationships – I can see very early on if it’s something that’s worth the time or not. And if I’m being truly honest with myself, I knew before this relationship began that it wasn’t going to work.  So why did I even indulge? Why did I even put the both of us in a situation I thought was likely to fail? Because I was hoping that I was wrong.

There was a glimmer of a chance that things would turn out differently than what the tealeaves had suggested, and I wanted so badly to believe it. Here was someone who was fun and interesting and dragged me out of the house at a time when I needed it most. Here was someone who valued family and relationships in the same way I do. And here was someone who truly believed I could do anything I put my mind to, and loved me with everything he had. So I thought, “maybe.” Maybe I just need to give our seed the opportunity; place it in the ground and see if it would grow.

But the elements just never seemed to work in our favor for some reason. It felt like the sun would come out for a few minutes, only for a set of clouds to breeze in and camp out. The rains came just frequently enough to keep the dirt from getting hard – no more and no less than the minimum water needed to keep us alive. And it seemed like the bees loved all the flowers except ours. Still, two years later, I faithfully go to the window every morning to check on our flowerpot – hoping to find new growth but, instead, seeing a little less life than the day before.

So when I woke up this morning in tears, something inside me knew that no matter how hard we try, the result (for me) would be the same. I then asked myself what any person in my position would wonder: do I sacrifice something that is fine for the potential that there may (or may not) be something that is great? What if I end up never finding what I think is out there; wishing I had left well enough alone? Is “good enough” worth it?

The answer:  “Anything less than mad, passionate, extraordinary love is a waste of time. There are too many mediocre things in life. Love should not be one of them.” (Dream for an Insomniac)

Seeing that quote reminded me why this nagging feeling was never going to go away.  I’ve seen marriages where the couple is still passionately in love 30 years later and I’ve seen marriages where the flame has dwindled but they’ve stayed together anyway.

In full disclosure, generally the couples I grew up around and were most influential in my life were the latter.  And while I know that each of those couples love each other, they have set the example for what I don’t want my future marriage to be like. Each created a comfortable, safe life for themselves, and it works for them. But that’s not what I want for myself. I want to automatically smile when I see my husband walk in a room. I want to go on dates until we’re old and gray. I want him to still hold the small of my back when we’re 50. I want passion! And while I know that no relationship is perfect and you’ll have to fight for it every single day, I have to follow my gut when it tells me that this one just isn’t it. I’m content, but I’m not truly happy.

And, more than that, it’s unfair to string someone along in a relationship I no longer believe in. Because while he may be convinced that this is what he wants or needs, that cannot overpower my own feelings. It’s definitely going to be difficult and knowing him he won’t go down without a fight, but I pray that one day he sees that while I have to do this to be true to myself, I also have to do it to be true to him. And that I refuse to selfishly keep him from the woman out there – whoever she may be – that he truly deserves.

This is one of those hard conversations that I think is so important for us twenty- and thirty-somethings to have. I’ve said it before; social media has a way of making you think everyone’s life is great but yours. Yet, that’s rarely the truth.

Because we often only post and share the greatest moments of our lives, we convey to the world a false euphoria, a mirage of the Promised Land. But the point of Her Lenox Stoop is to face the tough questions head on. To challenge societal norms and start a dialogue about the real issues we go through every day. I lay my vulnerabilities on the table not only to get them off my own chest, but so that others just might feel comfortable enough to do the same.

My truths set me free, especially the hard ones. And they say the biggest regrets in life are often the risks we didn’t take.  So today I face my hardest decision, with both sadness in my heart as well as a hopefulness for the future.

Where’s the Stoop?

One of the most common questions I got after posting “My Dear New York” a few weeks ago was whether I was planning to continue Her Lenox Stoop. Obviously, as most indicated, the title poses as issue now that I’m living in Atlanta, Georgia rather than my brownstone apartment on Lenox Avenue. My sister-in-law even jokingly suggested that I now have to change the name to “Her Atlanta Terrace”!

However, shockingly to some, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have to change a thing about this blog. I started it as an outlet to share my experiences and to think through some of the issues that plague this twenty-something and others like me. Her Lenox Stoop was birthed when I decided to take control of my life and to be completely vulnerable in the process. A time when I was standing at a fork in the road, deciding which way to go. The intent was to challenge what might be considered the “ideal” paths and choices of life and to instead think critically about the things that I really want and that are important to me.

Although I’ve passed the initial crossroad and made that choice of left vs. right (in other words, New York vs. Atlanta), every day I am challenged with new questions. Up or down? Circle or square? Black, white or grey? Questions that continue to require me to be vulnerable, open and honest with myself. So while this writer is no longer physically sitting on Her Lenox Stoop, she is very much still pondering the issues of being a young, black, female professional in this world.

So whether I am in Harlem, Atlanta, Santorini or Bali my heart and my mind will continue to be right there on Her Lenox Stoop, questioning it all…

My Dear New York…

My Dear New York,

I came to you at the time in my life that was filled with utmost promise, and I walked into your open arms with expectation. You lured me in with your infectious energy, constant hustle and limitless possibility — now almost 7 years later I can honestly say that you’ve lived up to your name…

Our time together brought out sides of me that had been itching to be freed as well as sides that I hadn’t even known were there. You allowed me to experience people, places, foods, cultures and styles that ultimately gelled together to create my own unique sense of self. You absolutely made me realize that I’m one of one! You strengthened me by bringing me closer to God, helping me develop lifelong relationships, and pushing me out of my comfort zone. So there are no words I could say that would adequately express my gratitude.

I’m leaving you not because you’ve hurt me in any way, nor because I don’t think we work well together. I just have to follow my gut and my heart — both of which are pulling me to Atlanta. You were my own personal Mecca where I found a sense of self and laid the foundation for my life, my career and my family. But the black Mecca of the world is calling now. She’s calling me to take that foundation and expand it. To lay down roots and sprout branches that yield delicious fruits and span out to the horizon.

Because of you, New York, I now return to the arms of Atlanta, again with expectation, but this time the bar has been set and the challenge declared. The woman returning to the Peach State this time is a more autonomous, empowered, and fortified version of the girl who left all those years ago — and it’s all thanks to you.

You will always hold a very special place in my heart’s memory, and our years together have been forever inscribed on the scrolls of time. 

Love Always,

Marissa

Give and Take

Bundled on the couch under a cover,

As the sounds of a classic black film hover.

 

“I’m a giver,” he explains.

Comforting her with his good-guy ways.

And all she could think is, “I’m the taker.

This will never work; he’ll get fed up sooner or later.”

 

But haven’t I earned it, though?

The right to think of me and me alone?

 

For once, this late-twenty-something is doing things her way.

The rule book is gone, and she’s calling the plays.

She wants what she wants when she wants it,

With neither apology nor a care for consequences.

 

So what does that mean for mystery man?

All she can do is be honest and hope he’ll understand.

 

Understand that he found her half way down a path of discovery,

And she owes it to herself to finish the journey.

Right now the priority is finding her voice, her passion.

Sitting on Her Lenox Stoop is her idea of perfection.

 

She has to enjoy this period of being in the selfish club,

Especially since the blink of an eye is what they’ve all warned her of.

 

So she smiles, and takes…

And hopes that he’s guarded himself against any possible heartache.

 

 

Sometimes I shave my legs…

I was 12 years old when India Arie’s song “Video” first debuted. Given the time period, I’m sure I caught its premier on 106 & Park and I am equally sure that I didn’t fully grasp the significance of the lyrics or message of the song at the time. But it randomly popped up on a playlist I was listening to today and it just validated my soul in a way that I wasn’t anticipating.

I’ve never really been a “girly girl” – unless you count the 5-year-old me who would only wear skirts and refused to go anywhere without a purse. But at some point in middle school I discovered baggy pants and comfy sweatshirts and the rest was history. (But, then again let’s be real, it was the age of TLC and Aaliyah by that time so it’s probably safe to say that every little Black girl in the world was a tomboy.) And to make matters worse, my mother had no patience for doing my and my sister’s hair so we usually had some combination of braids and beads that let us run, swim and play uninhibited.  We were kids and didn’t care if we got dirty or plain and simply looked a straight-up mess. It wasn’t until junior high school that I started getting my hair done and learned what wonders makeup could do to the average face – but, still, by that point I had started playing basketball pretty regularly so my hair was often pulled into some kind of pony tail, and sweatpants with Adidas flip-flops and socks became my outfit of choice.

Even when I graduated from high school and went on to my illustrious alma mater, Spelman College, the first two years you could still catch me in class and walking around campus in hoodies, basketball shorts and, you guessed it, flip flops and socks. But then, almost overnight, at some point during my sophomore year I went from being flip-flop-wearing-Marissa to tight-dress-whipped-hair-Marissa.  Some might attribute it to pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (skee wee!) that year, or perhaps it was because I turned 20 years old and finally grew out of my childish ways. Whatever the reason, the new me had arrived.  I was fresh out of a relationship, had a new social circle and was one year closer to being drinking age. All the necessary fixings for a make-over.

I started to care about wearing designer labels, having a bathroom sink full of makeup and beauty products, ensuring my hair was laid before I stepped foot outside my dorm and always being caught up on the latest issue of Cosmo. But along with that new sense of style and beauty came a yearning for color contacts and hair extensions, an unhealthy jealousy of women who I thought were more attractive than me, and a hatred for all things nappy. It was truly perplexing. Somehow, on a campus full of women of all shapes and sizes and representing the full spectrum of hair texture and skin-tones, one definition of “beauty” remained pervasive in my eyes. And although I often received affirmation of my attractiveness from men and even other women, rather than boosting my self-esteem hindsight suggests that it actually had the opposite effect – it created a dependence on external validation of my beauty.

It wasn’t until I came to what has become my personal mecca, New York City, that I started to recognize and believe that beauty cannot be defined by, or confined to, mainstream standards. I know Atlanta is the self-proclaimed mecca for Black folks, but there’s something that happens when you come to New York. The Black people (and really all people) here are so varied and interesting, representing the eclectic mix of the African diaspora around the world and, most importantly, exuding a freedom and confidence to be their true selves.  Once you’re here you can’t help but embark on your own path of self-discovery. And at every turn, no matter what road you opt to take on that journey, you are greeted by people who understand you; people who truly see you.

A year after moving here I walked into a hair salon in Brooklyn and told them to cut it all off. I was nervous, scared, worried and plain and simply freaked out – but there was also a sense of calm that came over me as I saw my tresses start to hit the floor.  I think in the back of my mind I knew that there were more than a few women who I would see in class the next day who were going to fawn over my natural curl pattern and tell me all the products and techniques that were going to work so well on my hair type.  I knew I had people.  I no longer cared whether others thought I was cute or stylish or if I was measuring up to mainstream ideals of beauty and style.  I was wearing the clothes I wanted to wear, and loving the deep brown of my eyes and chocolate hues of my skin — and, most of all, I was loving my natural kinks and coils.  As I walked out of that hair salon, that need I had had for external validation quickly converted to an internal confidence as I realized that I was finally going to be seen. If my life was a movie, it would be at that point that “Video” would have been cued so that as the camera spans out above me walking down the street the audience would hear India singing beautifully: “every freckle on my face is where it’s supposed to be, and I know my Creator didn’t make no mistakes on me.”

Well said India, well said.

A Different World

By the time they were my age my dad had taken a job with the city of Buffalo and my mom with a local bank, they were married with two children, had two cars and had already bought their first home.  By comparison, right now I am renting an apartment that’s too expensive to be so small and require me to walk up four flights of stairs (but is in a really great Harlem location and has a washer and dryer in the unit, amen), and I’ve been single with little to no prospects for longer than I’m willing to admit in public, and I either walk or rely on the subway, buses and Uber to get me wherever I need to go – but I also brunch frequently, have way too many clothes, and I make it a point to leave the continental U.S. at least once a year.

So what’s the difference? My parents were toddlers as the Jim Crow era came to an end and teenagers when MLK prophesied of his trip to the mountaintop.  They are from a generation where the sting of segregation and institutionalized racism still permeated every aspect of their lives.  I, on the other hand, came into this world in the late ‘80s when all the hard work of prior generations was beginning to show some impact.  Also, by that time my parents were established in their careers and, although not wealthy in any sense of the word, were comfortable in the life they had built.  I had the privilege and pleasure of growing up in the house my father built with his own hands in a middle class neighborhood, went to a magnet high school that was ranked #4 in the nation at the time, and at the age of 20 I saw a Black family move into the White House.  And although I was (and continue to be) very aware of the struggles of being Black and a woman in this country, I was never made to feel inhibited by those labels.  As my favorite author once said, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all” (Zora Neale Hurston, How It Feels to Be Colored Me).

Don’t misunderstand, my parents had strong role models as they grew up and they truly believed that they could do anything that they set their mind to, but they were also taught that they’d have to work twice as hard just to get half as much.  They put themselves through college, and because they had big responsibilities at relatively young ages they weren’t able to take advantage of what they would call the more lavish lifestyle choices I’ve made for myself.  My father was 1 of only 3 Black students in his class at Cornell and my mother ultimately had to switch to night school so she could balance her time working and raising young children. Further, they were raised in a time where the Black “family unit” was an important symbol – it represented stability, civility and, in some ways, protection.  As a result, their focus at my age was doing whatever they had to do in order to build a strong foundation for their family and to give their children the best opportunities for survival.  My primary focus at this point in my life, however, is simply building a strong me

My generation seems, more than any before us, to have moved away from our parents and our hometowns without looking back, and we are instead taking up residence in some of the busiest metropolitan centers of the world. We stand ready to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to us as we figure out what exactly we want our lives to ultimately look like – even taking destiny into our own hands at times to create the opportunities we want without concern for how we might be perceived by others.  There are many of us who are indeed buying homes, getting married and settling into the stereotypical “adult life”, but it seems like most late-twenty-somethings these days are still weighing their options, thinking 3 moves ahead before deciding when and where to put down roots.  Even those who maybe never left their hometowns remain hesitant to simply accept the lives their parents had because they can’t seem to shake an internal yearning for more.  We are still exploring ourselves emotionally, creatively, financially, religiously, and professionally.  We are unapologetically selfish and resolved to immerse ourselves in any and every single thing that we so desire without any feeling of shame, remorse or inadequacy.

We, Black and Brown Millennials, have the audacity to throw on blinders as we consider that job promotion, career move or new business idea such that the issues of whether we want to be in a serious relationship, get married or have kids become secondary (and sometimes tertiary) concerns.  We are too busy dropping a few thousand on that trip to Phuket or Dubai to think about if it’s the right time to own rather than rent our homes. We aren’t spending time researching which are the best school districts to live in because we are researching best brunch spots instead.  Some may call it naïveté or recklessness, but I choose to see it as the freedom to find my happiness. And not my happiness as a “Black woman,” but rather my happiness as Marissa Coleman.

And while my maternal clock does often cause me to compare my life to what my parents had at this same age, what I’ve realized is that I have something my parents didn’t: the luxury of time and the autonomy it fosters.  Today, people are living longer and having kids later in life so I can take this time to leisurely weigh career goals, travel prospects and ideal proximity to family and friends.  I don’t have any major responsibilities or external pressures influencing what I do with my life or when I should do it, and that’s a freedom that I am now learning to appreciate.

So although I envy what my parents had and continue to have (they’ve been married for 42 years, talk about pressure!), I really wouldn’t change a single aspect of my life so far.  I’ve been blessed with opportunities that my parents and grandparents prayed I’d one day have, and I am going to do everything in my power not to let their sacrifices be in vain. Besides, they love being able to come visit me in “the big city”, and they view it as their opportunity to try restaurants they’ve seen on TV, visit the Schomburg and shop for vintage furniture in Brooklyn.  Between NYC and visiting my brothers in Atlanta, they now have places to go and things to do.  And my brothers have already given them grandchildren so they seem content to let me be for now…