As my daughter and I were picking out new reading adventures at our neighborhood library, I ran into an old friend from high school whom I had briefly dated. He has since married another classmate, a beautiful woman who is also a writer, and just had his second daughter. I was telling him about my recent adventures in the Big Apple and explaining to him (because he’s a teacher as well) how difficult it is to get a teaching certificate in the New York City public school system. I was recounting how lucky I was to have gained a much-needed recommendation with a bit of ease, when he stopped me mid-sentence to say, “You don’t need to tell me this. I know you didn’t have a problem finding work.” My friend continued, stating that he and his wife often joke about me, saying: “We know that Jo will always have two things—a job and a man.”

I can honestly say that I have never interviewed for a position I wasn’t offered. I have the luck of the God of Black girls working on my side—I’m blessed. The second part of the statement, however, struck a nerve. I smiled away his comment and faux-laughed. On the drive home, though, I contemplated his words and had to relent—I do always have a man. Of course, I’m not boasting. I’ve been engaged a few times and married twice, outside of other long term relationships. Today, for the first time possibly in my adult life, I am single, and, I tell you, I don’t know what to do with myself. What others see as some sort of vixen, man-grabbing juju—I see as constant attempts to escape loneliness.

In that moment sitting quietly in my car, I had to admit that I don’t know how to be alone.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. I mean, we are all socialized to partner, especially as women. If you add my strict southern upbringing and my loathing of cold beds to the mix, you’ve got a girl who jumps from relationship to relationship, possibly just for the sake of jumping. My thought was, as I sat there, in the end, alone: Has it all been worth it? I don’t believe so, and I’m reminded of this by a good friend who not only refuses to settle in relationships, but who is also quite comfy with her single self. I sort of envy her reserve and audacity. I mean, I’m sure she gets lonely, we all must, but she chooses to wait for the right companionship. This, I’m sure, is my shortcoming in relationships—my bad choices, my settling, my hate of empty spaces.

While recently reading bell hooks’, Communion: the Female Search for Love, I ran across a paragraph that moved me, almost to tears. It was so honest—the kind of honesty that we need as women attempting to maneuver through love and life—that I had to embrace it for a few days, almost like an affirmation. hooks asserts:

Looking for love and looking for a man are two different agendas. Most women without male partners are looking for a man. And guess what? Men are easy to find. Finding a man is not the same as finding love. To find love with a male partner, women have to be clear that this is our desire.

I assume that in our efforts to be clear that we desire love, we must examine those we allow to reside within our loving spaces. Ms. hooks is right, men are easy to find, and most are willing to commit in some way or another (much as I’m sure women are—we keep it even here). What we want, what we should focus on, is the partnerships that will nourish and support us, that will last, and that are worthy of our time, energy, and spirit. We need to study the differences between being alone and being lonely, and behave accordingly.

I’m starting today, and you?

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