Today makes 10 years since I finished my graduate school education. I remember how excited and optimistic I was for the future. I had gone straight from college into graduate school and even though my program was only a year long, it represented a major change. For the first time in my life I lived in a place where I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t drive to my parents house on a whim. I had to adjust to living alone and creating my own community. The experience set the tone for my professional specialties of relationship therapy, religious trauma and career planning. I knew even then that I wanted to keep on learning and grow as a therapist. Ten years later I can say that I’m a lot more comfortable talking to clients and providing them with some value for their time and resources. I still enjoy helping people and finding solutions. Regardless of where my career goes next, I know I have a good foundation and a better sense of who I am—both personally and professionally.
It’s rare these days that I watch a movie in one sitting and this one was no exception. I found myself watching it over the period of a few days in between my other work obligations. I was a teenager when I read Redeeming Love the book and it was a lot to sit with. I remember thinking that the parental/adult themes warning was legitimate even though it was a sold as a Christian book. Watching the movie reminded me of the whole idea of purity culture and the lack of options many women experienced during the early pioneer/Gold Rush days. The movie was an adaptation of the book which was a more modern day adaptation of a bible story about a man who was told by God to marry a woman of the night. Of course in the movie the “street” was a brothel but you get the general idea. In theory the idea was that the girl was rescued from a life of abuse and given a home in the country with a loving husband. However, she didn’t want to be there and wasn’t interested in any type of romantic relationship. The story had a “happy” ending with her realizing that she loved him and that he had never moved on from losing her. All in all, I can see understand the intended story of redemption but it came across in the movies as extremely manipulative. There was a lack of choice that was appalling because the main character of the story didn’t want to be a wife. She had no interest in the man but he still “bought” her and took her away from all she had ever known. Change can happen but you can’t “save” someone who doesn’t want to be saved and has no interest in what you’re offering.
I’ve set an intention (as I typically do) to write more frequently. While I see the upcoming new year as a start, I thought that it would be good to try to get a head start on creating the habit. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of reading and research on religious trauma which translated in to presenting at several conferences, writing an article, and creating a mini-course. Religion is one of those things that can bring value and meaning to life. It influences the way that people see themselves and see the world. However, it can also be used as a weapon and inflict emotional wounds that are difficult to move past from. I think that there’s a need for more conversations around how to successfully navigate and integrate the values from that you were taught with the knowledge gained through experiences. Oftentimes, those two things aren’t congruent and are perceived as clashing; but in reality, our past experiences shape who we become in one way or another.
While technically Valentine’s Day is over, I was reminded today while scrolling social media of all the years that I wanted to be in a relationship. While that goal was accomplished last year, it’s been interesting how much less the holiday means after being shown love and kindness throughout the other 364 days of the year. There were a lot of sad people today who spent the day alone or with people that they may not have genuinely cared about or loved. Relationships are so much more than what happens in a 24 hour period. While I love grand gestures and gifts, I’ve come to a deeper appreciation for the small meaningful things that make life easier. Being able to delegate difficult tasks, having a friend I can talk to, requesting an occasional foot rub are all things that at one point in my life I never expected to have. As I’ve continued to work with couples, I’m reminded of the importance of consistency in relationships. Trust and commitment don’t happen overnight. They both are traits that are cultivated through time and energy and many people don’t make the investment that is necessary for success. When something is important to you, you make time for it and ensure that it is a priority. Taking the time to water your own grass (figuratively) and invest in the health of your relationship will reap benefits. Just make sure you’re with the right person.
After years of waiting and hoping I finally got into a relationship with long term potential about a year ago and things are going well. The thing that has been surprising is how different my expectations were from reality. I work with black women who have educational and financial standards for their future boyfriend or spouse and honestly I used to be one of them. No one wants to be in a relationship and do worse financially then they were before. However, in the past year I’ve learned more about some of the intangibles that mean more than what a guy makes or his level of education. Women can easily get caught up in what a man does instead of evaluating who he is. One thing is significantly less obvious than the other. Dating a project isn’t about trying to rehabilitate a man but it’s not the same as supporting a man who has a clear path and plan for the future. Many times the past is a great indicator of the future. Instead of asking about a five year plan, it’s better to ask a man about a five year plan he’s has in the past and what year he’s in presently. It’s easy have aspirations but it’s much hard to put in the work to manifest them. If a man is serious his actions will show it. Giving you a girlfriend label doesn’t indicate he’s serious. Is he applying for jobs to move closer to you? Has he given you his timeline for moving in together? Is he introducing you to his circle of friends? These are all indications that there’s a good chance he’s sees a future with you. Women are quick to complain that a man has wasted their time but in reality they have wasted their own time because they weren’t being held hostage and they got committed too soon without verifying that the other person wanted the same thing. Taking inventory means that you understand where you are in your life and you intentionally choose to make decisions that align with your long term goals.
I was having a conversation the other day with a woman who was at a crossroads in her life. She had focused on her career and had finally come to the realization that she wanted to have a husband and children. The challenge is that the made the decision in her 50s. Now, I know the whole cliche about how you get wiser as you age and the fact that age isn’t anything but a number. However, the rules are different when trying to find a significant other after a certain age. Chances are that a younger woman has a better chance of getting married and having a family than someone who is middle aged. It’s not necessarily fair but it’s reality. I remember the decision I made to focus on my career and while I didn’t regret it, I also realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to focus on long term. The relationship that I’m in right now is the result of a conscious decision to grow personally so that I could be my best self in a relationship. I’m glad that my focus has shifted because it’s been valuable in defining what’s important to me and how I want my life to be moving forward. A lot of changes have occurred and I’m looking forward to what is next.
Grief is one of those things that can be complicated. While I’ve never sought formal training in being a grief coach or a grief therapist, it’s something that I’ve experienced in my years of practice. I’ve worked in hospice settings and in many hospitals where anticipatory grieving and grieving after a loved one has passed happened frequently. But there’s a significant level of less understanding for people who have lost a pet. Pet (especially dogs) are extensions of our families. My dog Sam was with me from high school all the way up until I finished my doctorate. He was a companion, pain in the butt, loyal friend, and a good listener. He didn’t have any safety awareness and tended to run up to cars instead of away. While he was brave in biting bigger dogs, his 13lb body shook from fear when there was a thunderstorm close by. He hated to have his paws touched but loved to find an empty lap to jump on and sleep. Overall, he was fairly mellow and didn’t have the explosive constant energy that was indicative of his breed. He usually slept through the night but on some occasions he wanted to go out every hour on the hour. Even after a year of him being gone I still miss him but I appreciate all the memories that I have of him. If there’s a doggie heaven I hope we’ll meet again.
I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of dating. It can be tough to find genuine people. The irony of my life is the fact that I know a good amount of eligible people but they don’t want to date me. Such is life. I’ve decided that there are three things that pretty much capture characteristics of the person I’d like to run into one day. Consistency, Communication, and Chemistry. I know that part of adulthood is having responsibilities to fulfill and that everyone isn’t by their phone all the time. However, it shouldn’t take hours upon hours to respond to text messages. Phone calls are still a good thing. Communication is one of those things that you really can’t go without if you want to get your relationship off the ground. Everyone has a different way of communicating but there needs to be clear expectations. Constantly guessing and playing it by ear gets old really quick. Chemistry is one of those really important things because it’s something that really can’t be manufactured. Sure, there are people who become attracted to each other but sometimes you just know that there is no way that chemistry is present. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong, it just means that two people aren’t compatible. The funny thing is that the more grounded that I’ve become, the easier it is to identify bullshit from miles away. My radar has definitely improved and it’s made me more appreciative of the short and brief moments where I’ve gotten the opportunity to interact with individuals that have those characteristics. Maybe one day the consistency thing will kick in.
One of my resolutions this year is go prioritize writing and to become more consistent with posting. Part of my job as a therapist is encouraging people to delve deeper. Surface communication is the norm. Recently I was challenged to take inventory in my own life of the people that I consider myself to be close to. I have been incredibly lucky to have had some amazing colleagues who have become friends. But there’s only a handful of people who I consider really close friends. It can be so easy to fall into multiple surface level friendships that lack the depth of a meaningful connection. I remember being told that if you find one good friend who is truly a friend you need to keep them around because people like that are rare. As I’ve gotten older I have personally experienced the truth in those words. I like the closeness of my circle and the people who I have chosen as`friends. When you have genuine people in your life it becomes easier to be honest (even painfully so) with them and also with yourself. You feel comfortable with opening up and expressing yourself without the professional filter. These are the kind of people that last a lifetime. This year I’m truly taking inventory of who is in my corner and some changes will be made.
As this year of my life starts to come to a close I realize that there’s a lot that I want to do. While I have definitely had some milestones this year that included finishing my PhD, I’m not satisfied yet. Working in a hospital again has reminded me of how short life really is. I’ve had numerous patients who have passed away without any warning. I’ve had a lot of major changes that were unexpected but I also got hired on to my dream job (at least past time). So far I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel a little bit and I’ve visited 8 countries. I’m hoping to develop a good work life balance in the coming year and maybe flex my entrepreneurial muscles just a bit. The whole dating thing has absolutely been a bust so far so I figure I’ll just set goals around what I can control. Here’s to bigger and better things.