This article was originally published for PowellsBooks.org and is reprinted by permission from the writer.
I have the distinct feeling I am not supposed to write this. As if by virtue of my melanin I have been contractually bound to an unspoken creed, the first two rules of Black Woman Fight Club:
Rule #1: We do not talk about being lonely.
Rule #2: We DO NOT talk about being lonely.
This strict code is not without reason or rationale, considering the mere mention of Black women and loneliness has the ability to set a thousand pathologizing think pieces sailing across the digital waters of Facebook and Twitter timelines. Don’t be overheard saying you are lonely lest you want everyone from Oprah to your best friend, who just watched The Secret last week (15 years after it came out), to appear floating above your bed to tell you it’s because your negative inner chatter is blocking your chances at partnership.
Go to church and your pastor will tell you it’s because you “haven’t truly turned your life over to Christ.”
The latest self-love guru will tell you it’s because you obviously do not love yourself enough.
Black men on Twitter will tell you it’s because you’re thirsty, a THOT, stuck up, stupid, or a petty, bitter Black feminist.
To be Black, female, and lonely is to be at fault.
Loneliness is not a translation of the word desperation.
It’s Christmas Eve, and I am hanging up freshly washed laundry in my well-appointed home. My Yorkie is curled up on the couch and I have decided to brave Christmas carols for the first time this season. I turn on Spotify and brace myself. I used to love Christmas music, but since my mother died four years ago at the tender age of 53 (the medical examiner said she died of a broken heart, aka Black Woman Loneliness), holiday songs have become gifts wrapped in razor wire. It was fine at the start, me slinging sweaters over pink felt hangers while Bing Crosby crooned in the background about white Christmases.
Loneliness, however, is a swift moss. A few notes in and I was a forest floor of sadness and longing. I couldn’t name it at first and then it crystallized: here I was having an extraordinarily ordinary day. If not for the song lilting through my speakers and the ceramic Santa perched jovially on my end table, there would not be a single indication that tomorrow was a holiday. I was home alone on Christmas Eve doing laundry and suddenly soul-struck with an unspeakable loneliness.
Of course, it is unspeakable. I mean, who am I to complain? I am an entrepreneur whose job takes her all over the world. I have expendable income and no mouths to feed, save the 6-pound Yorkie on my sofa. By all accounts I am living the dream. And guess what? I am. And I am here to break the rules and admit that “the dream” does not cure loneliness. In some ways, it intensifies it.
I can hear the well-meaning retort now: “Sonya, you just need to build meaningful friendships.” I appreciate your perspective, but let’s be clear, I have more friends than I can manage. My life is not lacking deep, emotionally vulnerable relationships. I have made an art of building community and filling my life with rich, verdant, available people with whom I share intimacy and love… and I am still lonely.
All loneliness is not a state of lack. Some loneliness can only be characterized as an ache of overflow. It is the result of having filled one’s life with so much grace and beauty that it would be evidence of a selfishness only grown out of isolation and greed to feel no desire to give away such bounty, to share. Loneliness is not the manifestation of a self-love deficit. I am not failing because I am lonely. I am lonely because I am a human bound to the same desires as most humans: care, companionship, communication, and someone else to wash the damn dishes when I don’t feel like it.
Loneliness, however, is a swift moss. A few notes in and I was a forest floor of sadness and longing.
Writing my book, The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love, was one of the loneliest tasks I have undertaken. It illuminated the ways in which loneliness is a coat of a million distinct threads. There are varying textures to the labor of being lonesome; the longing for someone to share the sumptuous meal I just prepared is a different shade of lonely than the ache for a deep, passionate kiss. This hue is distinct from the loneliness of seeing a beautiful sight and becoming aware that you have no one beside you to also behold it.
One of the tenets of developing a radical self-love practice is learning to make peace with not understanding. Loneliness is presented as a function of personal ineptitude, because if we do not blame ourselves, we are left sitting with the chilling uncertainty of whether the chasm of loneliness will ever be filled, which in a great many ways is purely an exercise of chance. If I am just doing “it” wrong (whatever “it” is), I can fix the wrong and ensure that eventually the universe will bless me with a helpmate on this life journey.
The truth is I don’t know that. I could do everything right and still be lonely. And so much of what we understand about being lonely is constructed through a cultural prism that values partnership over singleness, to the extent of pathologizing the single person. All of these dynamics and messages exist to evade the reality that a whole heap of the equation of romantic relationships is out of our control and none of us can understand how, when, or if it will happen for us.
There are times when the reality of how out of control this specific portion of my life is feels devastatingly painful. There are times when the thought of continuing to have this life brimming with possibility and magic and having no life partner to lay down and wake up beside breaks my heart in real time. And yet, loneliness is not a translation of the word desperation.
I am not desperate.
I am not willing to exchange my dignity for an end to my loneliness.
I am unwilling to barter my self-respect for the absolution of loneliness.
Today, I love me in a way that won’t let me settle for anything less than someone who loves me just as much. This commitment to myself does not make the lonely subside, but it does make the love I have for myself radical; and at least for today, that radical love is enough.
TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA
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[Image Description: Photo of a person with dark brown skin and a large afro pulled back by a headband. The person is wearing a blue low cut top with ruffled sleeves. They are staring into the camera against a black background.]