Belonging, part 2.

20140507-230236.jpgToday, I won a really wonderful award. I was given the honor of Outstanding New Staff member for the Division of Student Affairs. I have a nice, shiny statue to place in my office, I was applauded and hugged by my wonderful colleagues and friends, and many kind words were spoken about me. Being a new staff member in student affairs sure isn’t easy, and the past couple of years have truly tested my resolve, creativity, and knowledge. So I am truly grateful to be honored with such recognition.

I am much more grateful, however, for something that is much harder to see than a statue. When I moved here nearly two years ago, I was leaving a place that I felt a deep sense of belonging. I knew in my bones that UMaine was part of me and I was part of it. Shortly after moving to Connecticut, I wrote about my transition experience:

It’s one thing to know in my mind that I’ve made a great choice in my career by coming to UConn; I knew that months ago when I accepted the position. It’s another thing to feel in my heart that I belong here; that’s a feeling that comes only with time and experiences. And those things don’t come in a job description or an offer letter, but by building relationships, getting invested, getting to know students, and putting my unique mark on my work.

Somewhere along the way this year, among long to-do lists, longer nights, countless hours talking with students, moments of fear, laughter, and tears, in the midst of difficult conversations and inspirational breakthroughs, between hugs from students and jokes with friends, I started to feel in my heart that I belong here.

I’m so grateful to my colleagues (who have become great friends) and my students for being part of this journey. The opportunity to wake up every day and make an impact and a difference in this community is not lost on me. I am so humbled by the opportunity to be an educator and to learn from those around me. So the statue is pretty great and I’m not about to give it back, but it will never compare to the feeling of belonging.

 

Let’s Stop Pathologizing Singleness

I am often told by well-meaning friends and family “You’re so great (or pretty, smart, good at cooking, funny, etc)! I just don’t understand why you’re single…” Thank you, lovely person, for noting my various positive attributes. However, when you say that, what I hear is “You’re not in a romantic relationship, so there must be something fundamentally wrong with you that I have yet to unearth.”

It turns out, there is exactly one reason that I am single: Because I am not in a romantic relationship. That’s it.

It’s not because I spend “too much” of my time and energy on my career, volunteering, or other pursuits. It’s not because I intimidate men because I’m an opinionated feminist. It’s not because I chose to live in rural Eastern Connecticut for my first professional job. These are my usual go-to reasons for why I’m single. However, I’m starting to realize that giving these responses to that question means that I am giving in to the deprecation of my single status, and in the meantime, throwing under the bus aspects of my life and experience that I actually enjoy and value. These are all things that I would not be willing to change for someone else. Because that’s selling out to some crazy ideals about love and marriage and I’m not at all interested in that. The whole point of love is that another person is supposed to complement and understand you and support you unconditionally (or something).

When I was a kid, I never used to play “Getting A Master’s Degree” or “Living By Yourself In Your 20s”. Somehow, these scenarios failed to appear in the midst of many days of make-believe games of “Wedding”, “House”, “Being a Mom”, and “Being Rescued from Near-Certain Demise by the Prince”. Weird how that happened. Weird how no one really said to me as a child, “Ashley, someday you’ll be 25, single, living alone, making your own money, pursuing a rewarding career, and making a difference in your community.” As opposed to “Someday you’ll be a beautiful bride” or “Someday you’ll be a great mother” or “Someday you’ll make some guy very happy”.  I simply was not taught to enjoy and appreciate who I am and what I do in life without being tied up in the idea of finding my “soulmate.” The script for singleness just was not there. Being single meant being alone, or worse, lonely. If you didn’t get hitched, you were an “old maid”. You were not to be trusted. You were to be pitied. You probably had no friends but your cats. No one loved you and you couldn’t have children. When single women became un-single, the collective reaction was one of great relief.

In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes tells a story in which the original humans were joined together, but as punishment, were split in two by Zeus, left to forever roam around the earth trying to find their “other half”. This is a perfect example of the pathologization of singleness; one is not capable of experiencing love and therefore enlightenment without finding the appropriate partner, their soulmate, their “other half”. This old tale rings so true in the way that we often think about relationships: That there is some ultimate truth or achievement in falling in love and making it last. That people who are married or are in long-term relationships have something that single people do not have. That single people are operating at a deficit, left to wander the world not yet whole. (It’s worth noting that Aristophanes was one-upped by Socrates’ explanation of “Diotima’s Ladder”, which espouses a very enlightened view of the ultimate love as the love of beauty itself, free of human forms and institutions).

Now, I am not here to hate on people who are in positive, healthy, rewarding relationships. I believe that sharing our lives with other people is foundational to our humanity; I happen to share my life with many people and I benefit greatly from those meaningful relationships. A romantic partnership is but one type of relationship. I am also not taking an oath of singleness for life. I’m totally down with getting married. Healthcare and taxes are a lot cheaper that way. It seems like a sensible arrangement for raising children. It’s a lot easier to pay for your home and living expenses when you’re going halfsies. Lots of great benefits.

I’m just asking that we start giving a little more love to the single people. And that single people, we start loving the singleness a little bit more. I am not broken. I am not missing something. I am myself, as I am, existing in this place and time in my life. And I’m existing fully, with love, beauty, gratitude, and joy. And learning how to appreciate myself and my life as just me is something I wish I had started practicing for long ago.