also, remembering a legend
Last week, we lost one of our great feminist writers, theorists, and activists, bell hooks. Her legacy lives on through the impeccable slate of works she’s blessed the world with, and I know I’ll forever mourn the loss of one of our greats.
All About Love is the most recent work by bell hooks I’ve read. It is an examination of love in the context of community, romance, spirituality, family, and the other relationships where we need love to thrive. There is no other book I’ve highlighted more. As a Black feminist sitting at the intersectionality of being Black and being a woman in America in 2021, I can’t thank bell hooks enough. Her critical theory on love, on helping Black men and women better understand themselves, on teaching us all the ways that fear and shame stand in the way of us knowing love, has completely changed my belief system on relationships.
Fearful that believing in love’s truths and letting them guide our lives will lead to further betrayal, we hold back from love when our hearts are full of longing. Being loving does not mean we will not be betrayed. Love helps us face betrayal without losing heart. And it renews our spirit so we can love again.
— bell hooks
Thank you, bell hooks. And may you rest in peace.
This Week’s Story
Welcome back to an OG Carefree contributor, Arlene Ambrose! We’re continuing the #GettinGrown series this week (check out The Sexual Awakening of a 24-Year-Old and why turning 30 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be) with a story that might trigger some readers as it deals with emotional and physical abuse from a partner. Arlene details how this relationship shaped her 20s, but turning 30 changed everything for her—in a great way! As always, leave your thoughts below, and make sure to share this storyletter if you’re feeling it.
EIC of Carefree Mag
He Told Me He Wanted To Get Married, So I Dumped Him. Thanks, Future Self.
by Arlene Ambrose
TW: domestic physical & emotional abuse
There’s never a right time to leave someone who’s not meant for you.
You’re never going to be good enough for someone who doesn’t see your value. They’re not going to magically change because you have a ring on your finger. You’re never going to be good enough for someone who isn’t happy with themselves. You won’t stop searching for validation until you find worth in yourself.
Turning 30 taught me this.
Turning thirty wasn’t the end of my life. It was simply the beginning of a new chapter. For the first time, I realized I am the author of my story, not my parents, not society, not my fears, just me. Before this, I lived for other people. I clung to friends that weren’t moving in my direction. I forgot who I was, or at least who I would’ve liked to be.
I wanted healthy relationships.
I broke up with my ex while his grandmother was dying in the hospital. We’d fought a few days before, and now he had something important to say. He held my hand and told me he wanted to get married. This time it would be different. The idea sparked some hope.
“Really?” I replied.
His blue eyes were desperate as we stood outside the hospital room. I wore a small black necklace around my neck and eyed the piece of gum on the floor. There was a hum of people all around us. My giddiness quickly turned into dread. I turned thirty a few weeks prior, and somehow this wasn’t how I’d imagined my life. I dropped my hand.
“No. I can’t do this anymore.”
I visited his grandmother in her hospital bed, along with the rest of his family for the last time–then blocked them all.
Six months later, he impregnated a girl and got married. (He did say he wanted to get married, didn’t he?)
I met Adam a few years before. Our relationship started great. A few months in, his abusive nature began to show. He yelled at me for random little things. When I went out with my friends, he’d call me a slut. He’d sleep around. I’d go ballistic. We’d fight. He’d kick me in the ribs, straight off the bed. Every time I tried to leave, he performed acts of desperation, like when he broke through my window, punched a hole in my wall, and threatened to kill himself (which would all be my fault).
Acts which, silly enough, I mistook for love.
It wasn’t all bad (says every abused woman). When he wasn’t on a rampage, we had a lot of fun together. But I started to become a person I couldn’t recognize. I became desperate for his affection, slowly making me question my worth.
How thirty saved my life.
Turning thirty saved my life. Numbers started taking on a significance they hadn’t before. I was getting older. I was accountable for how I spent the rest of my life. You start figuring out who you want to spend your time with. You begin taking inventory of the people who add value to your life and those who don’t.
Thirty forced me to look past my desperation for love and into the reality of what my life would be. I didn’t see a loving husband. I didn’t see a happy home or my best self. Deep down, I already knew we wouldn’t work. Until now, I wasn’t ready to accept it. I didn’t feel worthy, maybe even hated myself. I believed I had to do something to get love, which was a lie. I accepted less than I deserved.
If I continued down this path, I’d surely die from sexual infections or stress. Or even worse, the death of my soul, joy, creativity, and essence. My future self wanted more. I saw her in the distance all these years, but when I turned 30, she slapped me in my face.
She challenged my way of thinking by asking, “how many more years are you willing to spend repeating the same life lesson?” This wasn’t my first abusive relationship. I wasn’t a victim. Life wasn’t picking on me. I kept choosing the same people. I had the power to change the course of my life.
Sometimes we’re so focused on showing up for everyone else that we forget to show up for ourselves. We never consider what we want out of our lives.
I wanted my life back.
I had to disappear from his life to save mine. It was challenging to go no contact, but the fighter in me kept moving forward. I was determined to claw, scrape, and drag my wounded carcass to a new and better life. I disabled my voicemail. I blocked my emails. I got off social media. I had the help of an amazing therapist and started health coaching. I distracted myself with exercising, mindset shifts, and healthy eating. Healing didn’t happen overnight, but I kept going. I kept my future consistently ahead of me.
Harvard psychologist Dr. Daniel Gilbert talks about a bias most of us have. We tend to think that the person we are today is the person we’ll always be. When we can’t see change, we can’t see a way forward in our lives. Focusing on the past keeps us stuck there. We must tell ourselves who we want to be.
Society tells us that nobody will look at us after we turn thirty. People ask me when I’m going to get married or have kids all the time. I know what I’ve gone through, and I’m not willing to go through that again just to check off a developmental milestone box. I want better. Don’t let anyone dictate what your life should look like. Don’t let anyone limit what makes you woman enough or worthy enough.
Remember your future self and everything you are and can be. This is what it means to be human, the chance to make better choices than the generations before us. It’s difficult to do this when we’re stuck in any circumstances of oppression or self-hate. We create a positive change movement when we are imperfect but moving towards the growing, healing version of ourselves.
Here’s how to do it:
You start by seeing a dream for yourself and taking micro shifts to get there.
I wanted to write because I frequently silenced my voice. I saw the vision of mapping out my goals one sentence at a time. You start the same way. You envision the life you want and ask, “is what I’m doing right now helping me get there?” You take one small step until forward momentum builds.
You take advice from the wiser version of you, using the cause and effect method.
You ask yourself, “what’s the result of this action?” You decide if you’re willing to live with the consequences. Of course, we can’t predict the future, but we can stop acting blind towards it. What would the future version of you say is best? We must be willing to tell ourselves the truth about our circumstances. I had to admit that my relationship wasn’t loving. It was dysfunctional.
You get motivation from others who’ve been through what you now think is impossible.
Your current situation can feel isolating. Connections help you feel seen. I never realized the support I had until I was brave enough to share my story. I heard stories of women all around me going through similar experiences. Some left, some didn’t. Both pushed me forward.
Fast forward to today. I’m almost thirty-five and pursuing what I want. After peacing out of my relationship, I started travel nursing in Northern Canadian provinces. I worked and lived with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. I met many beautiful older women with similar stories, women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s finding love and starting over. I met women who were adventuring, giving me the best advice, encouragement, and laughter ever. Their lives certainly weren’t over.
Turning thirty saved my life. I realized that life was passing me by, that there was a future version of me that wanted more.
If there’s one point you take away from my story, let it be that it’s never too late to create the life you want, no matter how hopeless your circumstances feel. Your future is waiting for you.
Arlene Ambrose is a Vincentian-Canadian writer, poet, and health professional. She writes about wellbeing for women in recovery, empaths, and intuitives. You can find more of her work here and on Medium, and follow her on IG here.
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