Monday, December 31, 2012

CREATE LOVE! The Visionaries Get Personal

What was the hardest love lesson you learned?
IMANI: The hardest lesson I've had to learn is that deception exists in relationships. While that may seem very basic to most, I have always been somewhat naive about how deceptive people can be. As a matter of fact, my father always said, “You are going to have to grow out of that.” Well I have now. I guess the idea of lying in such an egregious fashion, especially to the one you claim to love, is foreign to me. One of my exes, of 9 years, cheated on me several times. When I discovered it I was devastated. I mean, after all, I was bringing a lot to the table and swinging from the chandeliers too– if I must say so myself-- LOL. But the lesson I learned from that experience is that people bring their personal wounds and baggage to the relationship, which has nothing to do with me. A hard lesson to learn but I got it.

SHARRON: The hardest love lesson I learned was that I was entitled and obligated to say NO. In my 20’s and 30’s, I would sometimes sacrifice my goals and dreams to accommodate partners. But I learned that if a person was threatened by my growth, my success and/or my personal vision, then I had the right, really the personal duty, to leave the relationship in order to honor me. That was difficult lesson, and it took me a few years to totally inculcate and implement that perspective in my life. 

I have learned that if a person is not willing to understand and/or “stand in my vision” for my life, and not allow me to understand and/or “stand in her vision” for their life, then saying NO was not only important, but necessary for my emotional and spiritual health. It was a hard lesson, and I sometimes vacillated. But I am grateful that I finally made the decision and the promise to myself to honor me, even if honoring me meant losing someone else.

What have you learned about yourself over the years through your relationships?
SHARRON: I have learned that I am extremely loving. I love to give affection, I love to shower my partner with affirmation, I love to appreciate my partner through words and deeds, and I love to acknowledge my partner in every aspect of my life. I also learned that I love to celebrate and honor people who love, cherish and respect me. In return, I demand the same without question, without excuse and without equivocation. I have also learned that emotional safety is important to me and when I don’t feel safe, I start emotionally withdrawing even when I am not aware that I am pulling away.  I have learned that I require an effective communicator who can clearly and distinctly express and explain emotions without much prompting and brooding. I also learned that I require a lot of flexibility because my life, profession and interests require an enormous amount of travel, and require extensive preparation.  I want to be my best, and ensuring that I perform at a level that represents me as a woman and a minority is paramount. I have learned that I require daily solitude/prayer time and without it, my prayer life and my creativity are stifled. 

Finally, I have learned that I love to be at home and I love family. I don’t appreciate too much spontaneity and that can be problematic for some.  I also learned that I am still learning about me and how I function in relationships. It is exciting to see where I need to grow and evolve, and if my growth is stifled or smothered, I rebel.  To me, continued growth is interesting, illuminating, intriguing and inspiring.

IMANI: This is a challenging question to answer for me. The truth is that I have learned so much about myself in my relationships. I think it is in relationships that I learn the most about myself because I get to see my “stuff” reflected back to me. So throughout the years, in both love relationships and friendships, I have had an opportunity to learn a lot about myself. And in different phases of my life I’ve learned different things. 

In my 20’s I learned that I am a survivor. If you put me in a desert and come back in a week I will have built a city. In my 30’s I learned how to effectively depend on other people and how to trust that my partner will be present for me. This has actually come to be a very integral component to choosing a mate for me—trust and loyalty. 

I also learned that being my authentic self is critical for me to feel loved and to be loving to others.  Now in my 40s I am learning how to find balance in my life. Mostly I am learning how to find balance with self-care and sacrificing for the ones I love. It is a challenging lesson but I am embracing it with an open heart and mind.

What do you know to be true about love and commitment?
IMANI: I love this question. What I know to be true about love and commitment is that both require intention and effort. Love alone is not enough to make a successful relationship, in my view. Love is the gateway but it is commitment that builds the covenant. As I have said in a couple of articles on Create Love, I do not believe that love is supposed to be hard--but it is work. And I believe that the work requires effort and intention. It should not drain you…However it should challenge you to be a better version of yourself. I do not believe that love is about two halves coming together, but rather two whole individuals making it work. This is why I am unwavering about my own personal development, which is ongoing. It is what I give and it is what I expect.

SHARRON: I believe that true love can only flourish with commitment because love is not just a feeling; it is a choice and a decision. It is a promise and pledge to be loyal, faithful, present and responsible. Without commitment, there is no emotional, physical or spiritual safety. And consequently, there is no foundation for intimacy and trust. You need both – love and commitment – to CREATE fulfilling and long-lasting relationships. However, if you have commitment and you don’t feel or can’t make a decision to love, you may have a great confidant or companion, but not a partner. If you are staying with someone out of obligation and devotion but not love, that is equally dangerous. People who stay together out of commitment but feel no physical, spiritual, or emotional connection are cheating themselves and their partners. Both parties deserve better, but many times the relationship has become such a habit that neither party wants to leave or change. 
After spending time with a couple, I can usually tell what their connection is.  And one of the saddest things I see is when people stay in dying or died relationships instead of leaving to live. I am not advocating prematurely leaving relationships. However, I am advocating being honest and self-reflective enough to determine if you have both love and commitment.  Only after an honest, substantive evaluation, should you consider taking action. Whatever you do it will take courage -- courage to get help to reconnect, or courage enough to leave. Both are decisions that should not be taken lightly. You only get one life to live and happiness is attainable if you want it and work for it. But you can only work for it, in truth.

Believe me, that was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and a more difficult decision to execute. But honoring you and telling yourself the truth is liberating. There is no other alternative or option if you want happiness and personal fulfillment.

What did a broken heart teach you?
IMANI: This is simple. It taught me that relationships are not about possession or ownership. We come together to teach, heal and learn and sometimes in the process we find a soulmate. But there are no guarantees and true love has to breathe--Period.

SHARRON: A broken heart taught me to pay better attention to my partner and to her needs. I honestly believe when you start taking people for granted that you stop giving them the emotional nutrients that they need to be in healthy partnership. Unfortunately, I was not paying adequate attention and my heart was broken. I was not paying attention to be mean, but I stopped giving adequate attention because I did not have anything left to give. I was a single parent who traveled weekly. When I was home, I was totally involved with my son like I should have been. I volunteered at his school, I took in foster kids, I was involved in my church, and I had a demanding job that I loved. I also needed my own personal time in order to stay emotionally healthy to juggle life’s demands.  Unfortunately, I did not know how to effectively and simultaneously juggle being a parent, professional and partner. I did not know how to do it all with any consistency or without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. So, I learned to not get into a relationship if I could not offer the time that a partner deserves and desires. A healthy relationship cannot survive without sufficient time.

A broken heart forced me to analyze how I was and was not functioning in the relationship.  Even though my heart was broken, I am proud of the decision that I made to be a mother first.  And honestly, I did not have any options because I was a single parent who traveled. She was not a parent and she was not willing to help me. She expected me to figure everything out and I did. I figured that she was not the one for me at that time in my life. I was the breadwinner and I had financially obligations that I was going to honor. As a result, my broken heart taught me to enter relationships with a sense of pragmatism and not just love. Love is wonderful; however love alone could not support a relationship.

My son is in college now and I am proud of him. I am proud of me too because I made decisions that were difficult yet mandatory.  It doesn’t sound romantic, but when I think about him being in college and doing well in life, I am confident that I made the right decision for me. 

What did your childhood teach you about relationships? What did you have to unlearn?
SHARRON: As a child, I did not learn many good things about relationships. I learned that women had no voices, that sex was not required to be consensual, that a man’s career superseded the women’s career, and that women’s feelings were secondary. I learned that women were appendages or attachments, and not equal partners with their own goals, dreams and vision. Women did the work, but did not receive the glory. I learned that I was invisible, inferior, and second-rate.  I also learned that beautiful women only deserved love. That was especially hurtful for me because I did not fit the standard of beauty. I was over-weight, had buck teeth, wore glasses, dressed conservatively and was a bit socially awkward. But, thank God I grew into my teeth and learned how to manage my body. 

Those childhood lessons adversely affected my relationships as an adult. When you feel and when you are taught that you are worthless and helpless, you accept treatment that confirms your own lack of self-value. As I detailed in my book, I Can Depend on Me, I had to unlearn that I was “less than” and substandard. I had to unlearn that I was powerless and helpless. Childhood messages can sometimes take a lifetime to overcome, but it is doable. That is why I am so committed to Create Love. I pray that we can provide or assist in the healing of childhood wounds that infect and affect spirits.

IMANI: This is such a loaded question for me. I learned so many negative aspects about relationships in my childhood. I grew up with parents who fought incessantly and put their individual needs before the marriage—and their children. I learned that partners are not to be trusted. So for many years a relationship was not on the top of my priority list. As a result when I would have one I always prepared for its end. While this was very unfortunate, it did make me a very strong individual. However it did not prepare me for a successful relationship.

I had to learn and unlearn a great deal! The first thing I had to do was begin to heal. I had to do my personal work, which started with therapy. Then I had to find a model of successful relationships through books, reading stories in magazines and talking to people who seemed to have what I wanted. This is why the Happy Couple Highlight is so important to me. I realize there are some people who have never seen love work up close, just like me. Next I had to learn that arguing is not about destroying your partner – or winning. I saw so much fighting that it took me a minute to get that. I don’t think parents realize the profound impact that arguing has on their children. It changes them.

Now, I am able to hold on to the fact that my mate is not trying to destroy me and that I can trust her even when we disagree. This took years to learn, but I am grateful for the lesson.

How do you know when you are in love?
IMANI: I know that I am in love when I began to pay attention to the details of the other person. As a true Aquarian I am usually very focused on my life’s work and often suffer from “save the world complex”—typical Aquarius.  There are times when this focus makes me somewhat aloof to other people. But when I turn my attention to her I know that I am feeling something different. I also know when I am in love because I am willing to be vulnerable with her. I’m willing to shed the public persona and share my deepest emotions, the good the bad and ugly. Furthermore I know that I am in love when her happiness becomes a priority for me.

My current relationship was more of a spiritual connection than anything else. I felt her and related to her on a spiritual level before she ever manifested in the physical. So I recognized her right away. I knew she was the one because of the conversations I had with her in prayer were the exact conversation we had in the natural. I knew I would fall in love with her. And I did!

SHARRON: Knowing when you are in love is so variable, so individual and so inconsistent that it is difficult to say. And, sometimes confirming when you are in love takes time because people don’t really reveal their truest and purest self until they feel emotionally safe. For me, I know I am in love when I feel emotionally safe, spiritually connected, intellectually stimulated, fully embraced, physically attracted, fully respected, consistently inspired, routinely encouraged, sexually free, and totally valued. I know I am in love when I can reveal my mistakes, mishaps and miss-steps without judgment. I am love when I feel that a person understands my dreams and wants to support me to bring my dreams into fruition. I don’t have to shrink or to minimize me to accommodate them.

Love is not an emotion for me anymore; it is a choice that requires commitment. If I don’t have those elements and I can’t reciprocate those elements, I question if I am in love. I am nearing fifty years old and I can now clearly distinguish between being in heat, being infatuated, being enamored and being in love. Since I am clear, I am able to decide to be in love and decide to continue to work to stay in love. Experience has been a wonderful teacher.

What do you hope Create Love’s impact will be on the lesbian community?
SHARRON:  My prayer is that CREATE LOVE will provide a social and spiritual support system for singles and couples to learn and to practice how to be loving. And to provide opportunities to not only be loving to their partners, but to love women intimately and platonically. In the Christian faith, we call that Agape Love.  I hope that women come to CREATE Love and feel that there are no boundaries, limitations, templates and formats for relationships, but feel empowered to CREATE relationships that honor them in ways that are validating. 

I pray that people feel comfortable and feel liberated to be who and what they want to be. I want them to feel celebrated, affirmed, accepted and embraced. I pray we offer forums, conferences, discussion groups and other vehicles that allow people to heal their childhood wounds that prevent them from connecting with others in helpful, hopeful and healing ways. I pray that we can be conduits for healing, empowerment, inspiration and encouragement. And, I hope that people eventually become more involved in ways that will allow the company to grow nationally and internationally. There are so many talented and amazing women in the group, and with their support, expertise and energy, we ALL can CREATE Love that has meaning and that is meaningful for us and others.

IMANI: Wow! This question brings me so much joy because it allows me to engage my imagination about the vastness and limitless possibilities of Create Love. My deepest hope is that Create Love’s destiny is bigger than anything I could ever hope. My dream is that create love offers a national and international template for successful relationships in our community. As we are emerging and SharRon and I are building this vision, my hope is that we can begin to unravel the mixed messages about our relationships that have become commonplace in the media.

What makes a lesbian relationship successful has to be crafted, modeled and celebrated by us and for us. My hope is that women see themselves in the stories of love and we highlight on the website; my hope is that the articles that SharRon and I write offer some guidance; my hope is that the create love group on Facebook offers community, love, safety and support for singles and couples. And ultimately my hope is that we remain obedient to a vision that comes through us but is not about us. Create Love is a revolution and a movement!

We look forward to continuing this discussion at the CREATE LOVE conference, Feb 16, 2013.We hope to see you all there. Click here for more info.  

Thank you for allowing us to share ourselves with you!
Imani Evans, MA
SharRon Jamison, MBA

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