therapy womanism womanist
Finding Solace: The Tale of One Lonely Woman(ist)7/22/2015
by Candace Simpson “The tragic loneliness Black women consistently face as we stand before judgmental others — sometimes white but somet...
“The tragic loneliness Black women consistently face as we stand before judgmental others — sometimes white but sometimes Black; sometimes male, but sometimes female — demands that we have some wisdom, experience, and some passion with which to combat this abuse.” —Karla Holloway
There is a feeling I so deeply feel shame in recognizing, and therefore, I never give myself permission to experience. But after some intense sessions of therapy, late-night texts with friends, and early morning angry prayer-arguments with God, I am ready to name this hairy beast before it eats me alive.
It’s a particular brand of loneliness. It isn’t a “I wish I had friends” loneliness. It isn’t a “I miss my family” loneliness. It isn’t even a “I wish I had a partner to take to this wedding this weekend” loneliness.
It instead is a constant renegotiation of self. It is the canyon somewhere between true celebration for newly engaged friends and a gloomy wonder if I’ll ever have an announcement of my own. It is the space between knowing entire digital communities, like For Harriet, exist for women like me, and still feeling like I’m the only person who feels as I do.
Women like me get introduced to colleagues and institutions as “brilliant sisters” and “powerful women.” We’re grateful for those moments because we are often forgotten. It’s a refreshing experience to be recognized. But still, a distant play-cousin of loneliness shows up when we come home to rest our heads. After the panel discussion we’ve facilitated, the youth trip to the ice skating rink we’ve chaperoned, or the protest we’ve supported, we must still come home and at least pretend to recharge. In those 4 minutes before our eyes finally close, we have time to let our minds wander to places it is usually smart enough to avoid during the day.
Am I doing the right thing? Does my work make sense? Is my work messing with my bae-options? And when I finally do find a shawty, is bae distracting me from my work? What part of me will be filled today? What part of me must starve? Is this lifestyle sustainable? Should I be doing this another way? Why do my friends even deal with me? What kind of partner would deal with me like this? Am I ready to deal with anyone else? Do I like me? Should other people like me? Am I supposed to be in school? Or at this job? Did I overreact to that comment? Should I have said something to that person? Do I make sense? Did I imagine this outrage? Am I being fair? Am I regulating my thoughts too much? Too little?
Because I am a womanist, something irks me about hearing men and women complain about romantic loneliness as they name themselves as “good men” or “good women.” They list accomplishments, as if they are owed love because they appeared on MSNBC. I fully maintain that no one owes me anything. I don’t automatically deserve romantic partnerships, platforms, or professional opportunities. These are things we earn, we work towards, we design. I don’t want anyone to give me anything because they are guilty. Nor do I want anything because someone sees me as a trophy. In all places of my life, I desire to be wanted on my own terms.
It’s more complicated than a romantic brand of loneliness, though yes, that’s part of it. Because as a womanist, I acknowledge that I am a whole person and I have inherited a history. I know it is my responsibility to manage the emotions I feel in my body in those 4 minutes before I fall asleep. What do I do with my loneliness? Is someone lying to me? If I am so grand, why is there this void in my heart? Surely, it is contradictory to be so “great” AND to feel so profoundly lonely. And certainly, two opposing conditions cannot exist together. How can the woman who gets attention in so many other ways feel trapped by her own mind?
This loneliness is sparked by an undying reminder that there is always something left to do, something that triggers my anxiety, something I must put my hands on and heart in. If it were a loneliness to be cured by romance, it would be much simpler to cure. Instead, it is a deep, political, spiritual loneliness. For Black women, the political and the spiritual are supremely important, and yet, they typically receive the least attention in the public sphere.
So let’s talk about it. This is a loneliness that takes a gasp every time somebody’s Uncle Earl barks at me to put a “smile on my face, baby” in the street. It is a loneliness that is underwhelmed by historically Black organizations, societies, and clubs with radical founding stories who hold scholarship dinners and brunches, all while remaining virtually absent from present movements of social change. It was the loneliness that felt like her writing-heroine unwrote several chapters of Sister Citizen with a disappointing interview of Rachel Dolezal. It is a loneliness that spends hours in Facebook and Twitter arguments because people really believe survivors of sexual assault are part of the master plan to take down Black men. It’s the feeling called “no one will ever hear me, maybe I should give up” after those arguments. It is a loneliness that tries to get out of meetings after a long day of work, but clicks “accept” on calendar invites because otherwise my needs will not be met. It is a loneliness that stares at the mirror and oscillates between adoration and disgust. It is a loneliness that has had to remind herself that the church has not always been safe for all of us. It is the cost of being “woke,” something we wish we could turn off in time for an awards show. It is checking myself so that I do not become another self-promoting thinker, but being angry when someone uses my distinct work without giving credit. It is a reminder that we don’t have the luxury of solely-theoretical work that is inaccessible to our communities, and a pressure to do that theoretical work for the sake of our careers. It is watching people with less integrity get further in life, experience happiness, and hating ourselves for a moment because we didn’t swindle the system.
What can I do? Maybe the best thing is to feel the tension. To name it. To invite it to dinner and tell it coldly “I see you, and I don’t like you” between bites of lasagna. To recognize it as a permanent part of my life, given the call I’ve accepted. Otherwise, if I pretend the feeling does not exist, it will eat me from the inside out. I will then become the thing I have dreaded — bitter. I believe the universe has sent me into a life of consistently noticing, disrupting, pushing back, imagining a new world that sets people free. So long as that is my mission, I will forever feel this loneliness. I have learned to accept that I will be frequently misunderstood. Yet, as much as I feel alone, I know I’m not. Something tells me I’m not the only one.
Let’s be lonely together.
Candace Simpson is a seminary student and a Brooklyn native. You can follow her tweets about Nicki Minaj, faith, and the gospel of shea butter at @CandyCornball.