radical love

When Memories of Former Lovers Resurface

 

Our bodies remember the traumas we dare not speak.

A week before my ninth birthday, my dad moved out, and my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Nearly two weeks before I turned twenty, I decided to end a healthy relationship with someone I wasn’t connected to intellectually. One week before my twenty-second birthday, the first person I trusted fully and loved deeply walked away from our relationship — this shattered my spirit in ways I didn’t know was possible. Two weeks after I turned twenty-four, one of the most intimate platonic friendships I had ended. We’ve since reconnected but…

My body remembers the history of unexpected endings every November.

She braces herself for premature goodbyes and a rush of intense memories she would rather forget. Not because the memories are too painful to revisit but because they remind her of a significant, interrupted soul connection.

Breakups are difficult.

I’ve been through three romantic endings in my life, but only one crushed my spirit. It was the person that would become my “first love,” and the relationship I still reflect on nearly eight years later. Sometimes I wonder how he’s doing. Sometimes I wonder how different we probably are now, but other times — well, I just miss his energy.

More than anything, I think I miss the intimacy and the artistic connection we once shared. Because I still think about him so many years later, I decided to write a poem in hopes that releasing it will allow me to release his hold on my memories.

Missing Memories

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep the past in its place / And I’m a bit of an insomniac so often I stay up late / And some nights / I / Mix together letters that form monikers of lovers I’m no longer connected to / Just to catch a current glimpse at their intellectual development/ And currently your musings are reminiscent of the revolutionary spirit I inherited / And in these moments I wish we were relatives or close friends that could get lost in sociopolitical discussions / Exchange writings like we used to, read radical texts together, dissect, and just connect / Instead of exes disconnected by the pretext of an antiquated economic institution / I was never really interested in pursuing / So now I’m seven years out still periodically considering your whereabouts / Wondering how you’ve been / Wondering if you ever regretted our final conversations / Or if I was a necessary loss that simply got lost in your quest to maintain a burgeoning relationship / But whatever the motivation, the callousness lingers, and it appears to be transferrable so I continue to meet hordes of inconsiderate people / And again I wish I could keep the past in its place because periodically mulling over past times can be painful / And I’m not really into self-inflicted injury / I’ve been in two committed relationships since the last time we spoke and tried to get to know quite a few people in between but it seems the true intimacy we once shared continues to evade my reach these days / And to be honest, I’m tired of reaching / Tired of trying to cultivate close relationships in an era where superficiality, meaningless sex, and guardedness reign supreme / Tired of meeting new people with the same archaic, apolitical points of view / Tired of missing memories and rituals we shared so long ago / Remember / Forehead, eyelids, cheeks then lips type of kisses we shared before we parted ways? / Damn that shit feels like way, way back in the day / But what do I do when what was reappears in my dreams so vividly? / I wake up feeling guilty when my subconscious self thinks of you / And I feel inauthentic if I force myself not to / And don’t even get me started on how foolish I feel knowing someone else has your heart but you still have an emotional hold on me / I used to think about the next time we’d meet again / Quite frequently / To the point I had to relinquish my imagination for a second / Just so I could sit in the discomfort of what happened and accept it / Then a few years back, I thought I saw you from afar in Charlotte / I wanted to speak so desperately but I couldn’t bear the thought of being just a distant memory / When you meant so damn much to me / So / I didn’t chance it / I decided if there’s any chance for us to ever enter a radical friendship you would have to extend it / On occasion I waver and consider reaching out to you / It’s like I know if we were relatives or even close friends we could get lost in sociopolitical discussions again / Exchange writings like we used to / Read radical texts together, dissect, and just connect / Instead of exes / Disconnected by the pretext of an antiquated economic institution I was never really interested in pursuing / But then again / I could never exchange an experience that allowed me to explore the transformative power of vulnerability / I guess I’ll just have to get used to periodically missing memories we shared so long ago

In memory of a love lost in history.

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But Have You Compromised Your Inner Landscape?

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Image on the left: Sketch of  a brain with two thought bubbles. One thought bubble is labeled “Water” and includes ideas we should grow, including equity, education as the practice of freedom, critically interrogating your conditioning, resistance to systems of domination, inner reflection, imagination, decolonizing education, collectivity, radical love, courage, revolution, growth, and interconnectedness. The other thought bubble is labeled “Weed Out” and includes ways of thinking that should be weeded out of our minds, including violence, deference to authority, domination, white supremacy, sexism and patriarchy, anti-blackness, myth of meritocracy, abuse is normal, unquestioned allegiance to religion, rugged individualism, oversimplification, money over everything, and hollow love. Image on the right: A direct quote from the writing, “From dating to art to our sense of justice to how we conceptualize labor…there is a set of beliefs, of irrigated ideas, that govern our every move.” 

The partners we choose and the people we opt out of choosing as partners reflect the recesses of our inner world.

These words evaded my lips when I heard a friend of over ten years utter that she’s failed in romantic relationships. There was something about this language that struck me immediately. To say “I’ve failed in romantic relationships” is to flatten our field of sight. It’s to negate that whom we date is a direct manifestation of what we believe to be true about ourselves. Simplifying patterns of unhealthy coupling as “failed” makes it easier to maintain unhealthy bonds because severing that relationship inevitably signals personal lack, failure. When, truthfully, understanding when it may be necessary to sever, to cut off, to restrict from penetrating only becomes optional through an ongoing commitment to honor our most authentic selves in thought and action. This inner digging, unearthing, confronting, and ultimately transforming what we’ve dug up into maneuvering differently prepares us for what Sunni Patterson refers to as “extended sight.”

Sunni describes extended sight as the ability to expand our vision “so that you see more than what you are going through.” She probes: “What seeds have we allowed to be planted that we can weed out? What can we get out of here, (pointing to her head) that really is not serving us?” This line of inquiry becomes possible when we realize we are living out implanted ideas in everything we do. From dating to art to our sense of justice to how we conceptualize labor to family to community, to loving, there is a set of beliefs, of irrigated ideas, that govern our every move. Some of these ideas embedded in the recesses of our mind must be pulled out in order to see anew. Sunni continues:

“We [have] to constantly ask…who am I? Who am I? Who am I? See when you’re grounded in this who am I, you’re moving from a different kind of space…We are bombarded and hit with trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma every day, but one thing for certain—I know who I am. So see when I know who I am, I’m in a less-compromising position. There are things that I will not compromise when I know who I am. It’s only when I don’t know who I am when I don’t have faith in who I am…when I deem myself unworthy that I will gravel.”

If we are operating out of self-belief that some aspect of our being has failed, we are choosing a language of lack. Deeming ourselves failed—that is, damaged—simultaneously makes it harder to imagine ourselves whole and prevents us from asking the type of questions that may actually lead to inner and outer disruptions: What aspects of myself do I compromise, do I negotiate in order to stay in relationships and situations that I admit are unfulfilling? Am I worthy of a partnership, of conscious coupling, that is fundamentally rooted in respect, compassion, kindness, and trust? Do I make exceptions for what respect, compassion, kindness, and trust look like based on ways of understanding I witnessed in childhood but haven’t divested from as an adult? How did I come to understand love? How has what I was taught about love served me and worked against me in adulthood? What concessions have I made that were detrimental to my personal wellbeing? What bruised parts of my inner world allowed me to make those concessions? What messages am I subconsciously sending myself about what I deserve when I accept anything that is thrown my way? What language do I use to speak to myself? What allowances have I made that are misaligned with the values I claim to hold? What am I willing to abandon to open myself up to the type of world I’ve never even imagined? This type of critical interrogation is key if we wish to unlock and overcome our complicity in toxic relationships.

In our society, toxic relationships are romanticized. If you’re in a romantic relationship and your partner attempts to control your movements, they are often described or interpreted as expressing their love for you. And of course, this way of thinking seems legitimate because, well, we learned this in childhood. Many of us were raised in environments where we couldn’t even control what time we went to sleep or how short our hair could be. If you were raised in a strict household where everything you did was heavily monitored and you rarely, if ever, had opportunities to make informed decisions for yourself, you were socialized to normalize symptoms of domination. So moving from a controlling household to a controlling partner doesn’t seem that abnormal. Reflecting on the sometimes tumultuous and remarkably painful moments in childhood can lead to new routes that circumvent the allure of toxic relationships. Without deep and honest reflection, however, we are prone to overlook childhood connections that may have trapped us in a cycle of psychological servitude.

While the glorification of toxic relationships are rampant onscreen, in families, and friendships, there is also an overarching sense of urgency fueling unconscious coupling. And the pressure to partner up regardless of signs of toxicity can be debilitating. To measure what is deemed valuable in any society, you can begin by dissecting frequently asked questions. As a woman, I am often asked the same two questions. Whether it’s from a family member or a stranger, I can be sure to hear: Have you found someone yet? When are you having a baby? These questions, while well meaning at best and presumptuous at worst, reveal a larger phenomenon. Both questions indicate assumed interest. According to these two questions, I should be interested in pursuing a romantic relationship and motherhood. It presupposes that my number one priority is in finding someone, and if my response is that I am not in a romantic relationship, I receive reactions of pity: “Oh you’ll find him soon. I know he’s out there.” Which illuminates other presuppositions because I’m sexually fluid and I am highly attracted to one’s personality regardless of genitalia and gender identity. More fitting questions we might consider exploring frequently include: How is your inner landscape? What’s the energy of your inner circle like these days? By ritualizing questions and thought processes that provide space to contemplate and assess our individual selves, we reprioritize self-reflection.

Too many of us are seeking peace and comfort in dysfunctional romantic relationships at the expense of our inner landscape. When I speak of inner landscape, I am speaking of the interconnected aspects of our psychosocial, sociopolitical, emotional, intellectual, relational, collective, imaginative selves. Who are we when we are sitting alone with our individual vulnerabilities? Who are we when we are in the company of selected comrades? What are we craving when we select our comrades and lovers? Who are we in relation to the broader communities in which we belong? How do we grapple with the larger context of our peculiar social conditions? How do we extend our sight and imagine that which seems improbable? To determine if you are compromising your inner landscape to date, I implore you to wrestle with these questions in the most radically honest way.

So to my dear friend of over ten years, I’d like to say explicitly that you have not failed at relationships. You have, however, compromised your inner landscape to date, and I can only hope that one day you ask the type of questions and move in such a way that announces instantly to any prospective partner, “I am worthy of and will accept nothing less than radical love!”