Friday, March 29, 2013

How To Choose a Beautiful Mate...

This article is not what you think. There will be no quick tips on getting the prettiest woman in the room. But you knew that, I am sure. Instead I would like to share some ideas about the lens through which we choose to see the beauty in our mates. Everything is not for everybody and we all have preferences. There is nothing wrong with that – really. But there is something wrong with misunderstanding that the assessment of beauty is an intrapersonal endeavor.

I am certain that most of you have heard the quote credited to Margaret Wolf Hungerford, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". There is another that seems also appropriate for this discussion, "beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplate them", by David Hume. Now how do we extrapolate this truth to us, the modern lesbian? This brings me back to my original point of choosing a beautiful mate. The simplicity of it is to first realize that whatever you behold as beautiful is solely based on your subjective vision to perceive it. Thus, the determination of beauty is much more a reflection of YOU than it is about the person before you...My how that changes things!

Everything we see gets filtered through a lens of our experiences, values, wounds, joys and beliefs. Our vision is an illusion meant to confirm the stories we have told ourselves. It is truly a journey of self-discovery to choose the beauty we see in our mates. Are you ready to embrace that journey? I would like to propose 3 simple ways to forever see beauty in your sweetie:
1. Find the most vulnerable and insecure place in the heart of your partner and, with compassion, find the beauty in it. If you are able to love and adore her in that space, you will always see her beauty. Then her confidence and her glow will become icing on the cake. In other words, can you imagine a personal filter that will allow you to see more beauty in the thorn than in the rose? When you can do that then the glory of the rose gets magnified, but it is gratuitous. Linger in that space for a moment. Challenge yourself to change the lens of your vision. 
2. Beauty is more visible when you are intentional to find it. There is a really great commercial on the OWN network that illuminates this fact perfectly. It is a commercial where random people on the street are asked to grab a frame and frame the beauty they see as they walk the streets. Overwhelmingly people report seeing more beauty than they would have otherwise. It is a powerful testament to the effort to seek what we want to see. If you look for flaws then you will most certainly find them. On the other hand, if you look for beauty then you will find that too. 
3. Have a sense of clarity about your own beauty. It is human nature to measure things with our own lives as the litmus test. You have probably seen the type of woman who walks in the room and starts to assess everyone in it. She is always looking for who is bigger, smarter, smaller, thinner, prettier, etc. Unfortunately, we are socialized as American women to engage in this self-centered, self-defeating behavior. It makes me sad. It is a lack mentality. It is based on a scarcity of self; we're not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough and the list goes on. We have embodied this practice as if it represents the truth. It does not.
There has been a great deal of scientific research on what humans find beautiful. The research determined that we, humans, are attracted to symmetry.  This may be true, but I challenge you to go against the grain and find beauty in the abstract and asymmetric.  Find beauty in difference--for that takes far more courage and creativity.

In summary the key to choosing beauty in your mate is threefold: seek it, see it, be it. It is my greatest hope that this article resonates with your spirit and that you find beauty in everything you see. I honor your journey to create love and see beauty in all things.

Nya Akoma!
Imani Evans, MA

Friday, March 22, 2013

Do You Really Love Me?

Do you really love me? 
That’s a question that we all have asked our friends, family and lovers a thousand times.  And every time we ask, we hope to hear a resounding and emphatic yes. We hope to hear people gush about how wonderful we are, and how honored they are to have us in their lives. We want people to list all of our admirable qualities and share adoring stories about our contributions to the world. Honestly when we pose the love question, we expect to hear “yes”. And not only do we expect to hear yes, we expect to hear a h*** yes.

But do we really share enough about ourselves for people to really love us or to determine if they love us? Do we share enough about ourselves in ways that exposes who we really are? If we are honest, we will admit that we share the good stuff that makes us look noble, strong and successful. And if we are honest, we will also confess that we omit the parts that make us feel unlovable, unacceptable, undesirable and  unethical. To some degree, we all keep our weaknesses, frailties and insecurities a secret and pray that the truth is never revealed.
But if you want someone to really love you, you got to let them really know you. You have to be open and disclose the parts of you that make you you. If not, how can someone know if they love you? The solution – be vulnerable.

Vulnerability may seem like a simple concept, but it is hard to do. The good news is that many of us usually know when we are not being vulnerable, open or forthcoming. We generally know when we are being covert; we recognize when we are  hiding and masking who we are. But many of us are not so good at realizing when we are hiding from ourselves. Some of us have lied to ourselves so much and for so long that we have difficulty knowing  when we are being clandestine, sneaky and disingenuous. We can’t effectively distinguish between emotional disclosure and emotional disguise.  And, we vacillate between candidness and cageyness.  

But if you want someone to truly love you, you must willing to share the REAL YOU. The REAL YOU - Not the fa├žade that you present to the world. The REAL YOU - Not the you that masks your pain and frailties. The REAL YOU - Not the you that hides failures, doubts and weaknesses. The REAL YOU -Not the you who exaggerates your income and lies about your education/expertise. The REAL YOU - Not the you who constantly acquiesces and goes along to get along.  I encourage you to share the REAL YOU. The REAL YOU who has a past filled with stars and scars. The REAL YOU who suffers from insecurities and feelings of inadequacies. The REAL YOU who has experienced success and failure, prosperity and poverty , and sickness and health. The REAL YOU who is authentic, honest and raw.  The REAL, sometimes contradictory, sometimes inconsistent, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes confident, sometimes cute, sometimes quirky, sometimes balanced, YOU!

Why share? Because that real YOU is the one who desires a friend/lover to share life’s challenges, celebrations, issues and accomplishments. The real YOU is the one who needs hugs and encouragement when a loved one dies, or when a job ends, or when you feel discouraged. The real YOU craves a champion, cheerleader and a confidant to travel with you through life’s ups and downs. The real You longs for someone to rejoice with you in good times and be present with you in times of sorrow. The real YOU yearns for a sense of belonging and aches for connection and intimacy. The real YOU – the human you, the imperfect you, the wounded you - wants and desires to be loved.

Unfortunately the real YOU sometimes doesn’t show up. And if the real YOU is never revealed, how can others know if they really love you?  How can they really know who are you are? Yes, important questions, but necessary questions that need consideration. Because often times we wonder if a person loves us because deep down we know that we are hiding parts of ourselves.  We are keeping secrets; we are not being vulnerable. But vulnerability is important; it is essential in all relationships. It allows you to open your heart and soul so that you are known in ways that encourage honesty, connection and trust. Just think about it - It is hard to love and it is hard for someone to love you if you won’t share.

Vulnerability is critical but must only be practiced in the presence of two other ingredients – 1) courage and 2) discernment.   Why courage ? Because vulnerability always involves risk. It involves risk of rejection, risk of betrayal, risk of judgment, risk of ostracism and risk of exclusion. And because of the risk, vulnerability requires discernment because some people don’t have the integrity, maturity or character to be honored with your vulnerability. They can not respect your openness nor maintain confidentiality. My grandmother said it this way – some people can’t even hold water with a cup. And yes, being vulnerable with someone and allowing someone to be vulnerable with you is an honor. It is sacred privilege to stand with someone in their truth and in their spiritual and emotional nakedness.  And the more we respect the sanctity of vulnerability, the less willing we are to violate, minimize and degrade it.

Even though vulnerability involves risk, it also has transforming power. Why? When you realize that others have experienced the same or similar things, you realize that you are not alone. You  realize that we are all humans traveling in this experience called life. You realize that your ability to be vulnerable changes how you live, love and navigate in the world. But most of all, your ability to be vulnerable increases your self-confidence, self-respect and  self-acceptance because you will no longer feel the need to hide from others or expect others to hide from you.

So, do you really love me?  A question that many of us will continue to ask.  And, a good question to pose after you have allowed someone to really know and see you.

I look forward to continuing this discussion in the coming weeks. In the meantime, be vulnerable, be courageous and be discerning.  Love awaits you.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Couple: Angela Laster-King and Tina Crittenden

Angela Laster-King and Tina Crittenden
Atlanta, Georgia

How long have you been together?  We have been together since March 11, 2003. We had a commitment ceremony 9  years ago. We were legally married in California on  September 13, 2008.

How did you meet? Angela:  A mutual friend thought we would be "great" for each other and introduced us.

What was the initial attraction?  Tina: She carried herself like a lady- the hair was beat, nails done, and she was extremely attractive. Angela: I knew of Tina years before and thought there was this "thing" about her. After we were introduced she was of course physically attractive, but she had a "kind sprit” and seemed easy to talk to. My youngest son thought she was "cute".

What would you say is the key to the success of your relationship?  Tina: Angela is my friend, buddy and she’s a solider. She is always there for me. Angela: We are best friends. We have fun and laugh; we enjoy each other. We make sure that our emotional house and its foundation always stay intact. This is key to ensuring that no matter what trials and tribulations we endure, our foundation is solid.

Tina, you said Angela is a solder. What does being a solider mean? Angela is a solider. If anything happens, I know that if there is anybody in my corner, it will be her. She is a “ride and die” chick. If I am in a battle, she will be there. It is her actions-the way that she treats me and the way that she looks at me – that lets me know she loves me. I show her that I love her too, but it is the way that she acts that lets me to know that she has my back. That’s why I love her.  She accepts me for who I am.

Angela, you mentioned laughter and enjoying each other. What makes that easy:  Tina has a kind heart.  She is genuine and has a soft spirit. That is why it is easy to love her. Tina has showed me over the 10 years that she knows and understands me. She understands my faults and works through my faults with me. She is my best friend and I can sit back and talk to her about family stuff, work stuff, my aspirations, everything. We just enjoy being together.

Acceptance and enjoyment are key pillars of a great relationships. You both mentioned them. How do those pillars support your relationship? Tina: Angela knows and loves me in my nakedness. She knows all of me and still loves me. This is the longest relationship that I have ever been in, and this is the first time that I have been in love. I love her and I try to do what I need to do to make our relationships work. I do it on purpose.  When we first started dating, she laid back on me, and I felt something that I never felt before. I asked myself “what’s that feeling”. I had never felt that before. I knew then that I would do whatever I needed to do to make this relationship work. Angela: Tina is sometimes “extra” but she is always Tina. She keeps me laughing, and I have learned that laugher is really good medicine. It releases stress that I didn’t know that I had. I enjoy her, and I enjoy being with her.

You both are mothers. How did your children respond to your relationship? Angela: We were totally open and out with our kids. It wasn’t the first relationship that they saw so that transition wasn’t hard. When we met, my son was 16 or 17, and Tina’s daughter was 10. Our kids just wanted us to be happy. It was a new beginning for all four of us. We had some growing pains and some hiccups – stuff that happens all the time in families.  But we were a unit. Tina: We just had to deal with regular family stuff. When we moved in together, there was some jealousy stuff – but like Angela said – just stuff that all families go through. We had different parenting styles and we had to learn how to blend those because we were both used to running our own homes.

What advice would you give to women blending their families: Tina:  Have one set of rules, if not, the kids will play you against each other. When we did disagree, we would have a sidebar away from the kids. And, we never challenged each other’s authority in front of the kids. If you do, they know that got you. We were always a unified front. We were united. Angela: My advice is when two people decide to be together, learn each other’s parenting styles first, especially 2 women who have ran their own households. We had been functioning one way for so long that we had to learn how to work as a team. I would l tell others  -Don’t be selfish and understand each other’s viewpoint first. When you have children, you have to become one with your partner, and one with your family. One way is not better than the other way, it is just different.

Now that you are empty-nesters, how has your relationship changed: Angela: I now have time just to focus on me and Tina. Before, we had a routine with the children. It is just us now, and now I can make the next 10 years with Tina greater than the first 10 years. We can just concentrate on us. We can talk and travel, and when we recognize it is time for us to get away, we can. Tina: Angela and I don’t have the same responsibilities, and so life is simple. It is pretty cool that they (children) are not here too. We are learning how to communicate better. We have time to just deal with our issues, and not theirs.  We have us.

You not only ran a household together, but you also ran businesses. How did you learn to be business partners? Angela: That was a growing process because you have two individuals used to running their own corporations. We had to work through that. I am a very structured, analytical person. I am a planner and I need a time-line. I want to know and see all of the pieces before I start something. Tina is different. She just needs to know the end results. We had to learn to communicate because she functions one way and I function differently. That’s why we have separate offices and I know not to move things around in her office. Tina: Angela is the administrator, she does all of the administrative stuff because she has to analyze everything first to make it happen. I am operational. I just need to know the end result and I can make things happen without knowing all of the pieces. At the end of the day, we have the same goal but getting to the goal may be different. We had to learn that we had different methods of getting things done and accept that. Angela: We are who we are and we had to accept that. It is the 80/20 rule. If something falls in the 20% that does not really affect us or our relationship, we let it go.
Discuss how you deal with and face challenges that might come up in your  relationship?  Tina: To always remember I am not the only one with an opinion in the relationship. I have to listen to my wife and try to put myself in her shoes, and understand her feelings.

What role does spirituality play in your relationship? Tina: Spirituality is key to making our relationship work, and understanding God is the main focus is important. Without God, there is no relationship. Angela: Spirituality is a BIG part of our relationship. Our belief in God and serving together is very important to us.

What role does sensuality play in your relationship? Tina: It is important to keep the fire going, i.e. role playing, date night, etc.  Angela: Sensuality is a way to allow passion and awe into everyday life - a life for which you will begin to feel more and more grateful and appreciative, even in challenging times. This is key to us because when we  play up each other's sensual sides: such as a touch; a smile; a wink, or maybe a compliment-it carries us through almost anything on a daily basis. Flirting is key!  Never lose that touch.

Over the years, how has romance and/or sex changed? Tina:  It has changed because we know each other now. It is more than sex; it is deeper. Early on I made the mistake by saying that “sex is over-rated”. In the past, I could have sex without being emotionally connected. But to Angela, sex is different; it was important for her to feel connected. Sex is still hot, but it is way better. It was hot then, and it is hot now but more intimate. We know each other, and I know what she likes and how to get her there. It is better and deeper now.  

How do you celebrate your love and stay connected daily? Tina: We flirt and we do a lot of role- playing. For example, we act like we are in high school sneaking behind the bleachers.  Lol. We also never go a day without telling each other that we love each other. Angela: You have to reach back to the passion you initially had. You have to reach back to understand what the passion was and why the passion was there. You have to plan a date night and switch it up so that it makes it exciting for your partner. When you take the emotional portion away and if you hit rough times, it will be a rough ride. But if you remember the emotional part and keep the connection solid, it will lift you when you are going through hard times.

What has your relationship taught you the most about yourself? Tina: It is not all about me, because for the first time in my life, I am in love . And, I am will do whatever it takes to make our relationship work and to make it better. I have learned to be more considerate. Being with Angela and being in love with Angela, has taught me to be more mindful of what I say and what I do. I have to be mindful of how she feels and what you wants too. If you are in a relationship, you got to act like you are in a relationship. Angela: That I am part of a team, and the decisions I make will affect us both. This was a hard one for me and I have grown from it, and I’m still learning. I have to remember that we are a couple/team - no more me/I  - in everything I do, BIIG OR SMALL! Being with Tina has taught me that we are team, we are one.

 What advice would you give other couples?  Tina: Always communicate your feelings. Understand there are two people in the relationship - 2 minds and 2 personalities.  Always fight fair - don't be mean  while arguing, be mindful of what you say to your partner. Angela: It is important to get to know your partner for who she is. Remember what made her tick. Get to know their family background. Have date night and have fun.  Discuss your goals together and often-- this can change as time passes.

What do you want your legacy to be as a couple: Angela: One of my friends said “you are my favorite couple” and that made me feel really good. I want our legacy to be that we set and maintained an example for other couples to aspire too. We are not perfect. But by giving and sharing, we want people to see that there can be normalcy in our relationships. I hope that we set the bar for others. Tina: I want our legacy to be that we were and are a happy couple; that we laughed and enjoyed ourselves; that we had fun and knew how to relax.  When people look at us, I want them to know that we love each other, and that at the end of time, we still loved each other.

What one word describes/characterizes your relationship: Tina: Enjoyable. I enjoy my life with my wife. Angela: Easy.  I am enjoying life to the fullest.  Loving Tina is easy.

You can also find Tina and Angela at:
Gentlewoman Clothing- Online Store
The Other Women of America- TOWOA  @ ( fb/twitter)
Tina is also a fulltime Realtor, Founder- GW
Angela is a Business Consultant- Specializes in Grants and Business Proposals.  Her new book is scheduled to be released in the Fall 2013.

(Interview conducted by SharRon Jamison)

We are grateful to Angela and Tina for sharing your amazing love with us at Create Love for Women Who Love Women!

Imani Evans, MA
SharRon Jamison, MBA

Friday, March 15, 2013

Finding Balance...Loving Her--Keeping You

I know some of you have it down to a science. Yet for others finding the balance of self-care and passionately loving your sweetie is analogous to solving the Riemann hypothesis. Yikes! Needless to say it is not always easy to do. Often you meet that special one and start merging your lives, all to look up one day and find that you are unrecognizable to yourself. You stopped going to the gym every day, you stopped hanging with your friends, you stopped playing pool, or avidly reading the newest book, etc. Whatever it is- the question is, what happened? Nesting happened, which is a good thing.

However, now it is time to renegotiate yourself back into the equation. Your self-care must be a priority. After all there is no way to love your mate, your children, your job, or your family if you are not here to do it. Doing those individual, life-affirming activities make you a whole, vibrant person – And what could be sexier than that? For those of you who have found a partner with whom you have the same passions you have hit the jackpot! For you life is minimally distracted because you both share the same activities and interests. Although I would still recommend that some individuation is still healthy. It keeps the relationship exciting and alive.

Now for the rest of you grappling with ways to stay balanced, this article is for you. I'd like to offer some quick tips to get you started on staying balanced at loving her and keeping you:

  • First, develop a written self-care guide that includes the things you need to feel balanced. This plan is not about what you need to survive, but rather to thrive. Your self-care plan should have the following categories: health & wellness, financial, intellectual, social and spirituality. So that's a minimum of five categories, but feel free to add others as needed. Put at least one activity in each category that helps you destress, feel whole, happy and joyful.
  • Sit down with your partner and very intentionally share your self-care plan. Let her know the ways she can support your need for balance and "me" time. You should also share the plan with your inner circle for support outside of your relationship too. The more people you have to affirm and reflect your need for balance back to you, the greater the chances of adherence to an overall wellness plan.
  • Next ask your partner to create her own plan or intention for self-care. What is more loving than encouraging the health and wellness of your mate? It is a wonderful way to sustain your relationship and build trust. More importantly if your partner is threatened by your self-care, I might be concerned more than just a little bit. Self-care is not to be mistaken with self-centeredness nor selfishness, instead it is about self-preservation. Stress, being taken for granted, and overwhelm are the only rewards for martyrdom--Leave saving the world to the Universe, God, Buddha, Allah, or the wide array of other energies working toward that end.  They are so much better at it than we.
  • Schedule time for "me" and "we". Just like date night should be scheduled, so too should the time you spend being an individual. You can start with a monthly activity, or maybe you can go straight to weekly. Schedule a yoga class, meditation, hanging with the girls or bois, or maybe just being alone and reflecting. When you return you can share the experience, with enthusiasm, with your partner. She will love seeing you happy. It may take a few times to get beyond the separation anxiety that some of you may be feel. But trust me, it is okay... Breath and know that you are worth your own attention.
  • Finally, continue to revisit and discuss individual self-care with one another. You will appreciate each other so much more.

It is my deepest hope that you explore these ideas with vigor. We all need YOU to be whole, well and happy. Encouraging that same well-being in your sweetie is the epitome of creating love. I honor you as you embark on your journey to loving more fully.

Nya Akoma!
Imani Evans, MA

Monday, March 11, 2013

Happy Couple Highlight: Julia & Alexis

Partners: Julia Roxanne Wallace and Alexis Pauline Gumbs from North Carolina
How long have you been together?  This is our 5th year together!

How did you get together/meet? Julia: Alexis was on a dissertation research fellowship in Atlanta when the two of us met at several different literary and activist events.  Alexis introduced herself to me at a Quirky Black Girls cookout during Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride Festival and, a few weeks later, I asked Alexis on a date after a fundraising house party for Critical Resistance.

What was the initial attraction?
Alexis: I thought Julia was super cute on first sighting, but it was during our first date when she described her work to end capitalism as a multimedia artist and community builder that I fully swooned!  Julia: As I got to know Alexis more I understood very quickly that she is what I was looking for in a partner and a friend.

What was so attractive about her work? What did that tell you about her? Alexis: We were at a “For Sisters Only” expo. As we were walking through the booths, Julia shared about her project, Queer Renaissance. She talked about how to create a world that honors the gifts of all people and values the lives of all people by centering LGBTQ people of color. She did not just have lofty ideals; she had specific plans and programs for how we could move in that direction as a community. Her faith, brilliance and passion resonated for me. The future that she spoke about was the future I envisioned. It’s the type of future that I want for our kids. I want my life to be full of bravery, faith, vision and passion. And, that’s Julia. That was attractive to me. The idea of being with a person who was also a visionary, constantly in the process of looking at what is and envisioning what could be was very attractive to me.

Julia: I had been revising the list for my divinely perfect partner for years. I listed the important attributes of this person in detail and even meditated on her with a name,  “Pauline.” As I got to know Alexis I found that she had all of the great qualities on the list and her middle name was Pauline. I knew it was the universe responding to the intention I set with my full being!

Julia, what were those attributes that you hoped for? Julia: I hoped for a woman with natural aesthetic. For example, natural hair seemed an indicator of a certain way of thinking and valuing your own beauty. I wanted my potential partner to be able to have a job or vocation that allows travel or allowed them to move around freely. I didn’t want her to be tied to a job that controlled her time. I intended for her to: dance with me and have rhythm, always be eager to learn, be a woman of color, be smaller than me, lovingly hold me accountable, support my growth. I was very specific because what would it say about my faith if I limited my vision.

What would you say is the key to the success of your relationship?
Julia: Establishing individual balance and knowing what you want and need in your partnership are important first steps.

Many people don’t know what they need, how were you sure about your relationship wants and needs? Alexis: That was an evolving process, and some of it was trial and error. Past relationships reveal what works and what doesn’t works. That gives you clarity. My own journey of self-love was important too. Our insights about how we love ourselves helps teach other people how to love us. I would say – analyze what you want and don’t want. And take more opportunities to learn about yourself. Julia: I agree with Alexis. It is an intentional process. You can learn from all of your relationships – parents, friends, mentors, etc.

Alexis: Communication, sweetness, inspiration, patience and collaboration are the keys to the success in our relationship.   We know we have the opportunity to choose the way we relate to each other, so we choose to relate to each other with sweetness and love.  We also know that our ancestors have brought us together for a powerful purpose, so we honor our ancestors by honoring each other.

Can you share more about your ancestors bringing you together? Alexis: My belief is that my ancestors are guiding and blessing me all of the time. My ancestors know what I need to accomplish my purpose. They give me confidence to do that work. Our ancestors have brought us together to do important things in our communities. By honoring Julia as an individual,  I honor our ancestors for giving us an opportunity to make miracles together. It is sacred work – loving ourselves, loving our ancestors and loving each other.

Discuss how you deal with and face challenges that might come up in your relationship?
Alexis: We deal with challenges as a team.  The outside world has lots of challenges to throw at a young queer black couple of full-time artist visionaries.  Some of those challenges are social and financial and some are due to other forms of oppression.  We support each other through those challenges.  When disagreements come up between us we communicate with love, even if we have feelings of frustration or anger.  Sometimes we use music, poetry and even dance to communicate where we are coming from.
 Julia: We are fortunate to KNOW we have a wealth of resources at our disposal to engage challenges. We can watch and/or ask friends and elders. We can consult books or online resources. We can pray and  just pay attention to the solutions that present themselves. Sometimes just learning from other people's mistakes is a great resource when facing a challenge. Challenges are an opportunity to grow.

What does communicating with love look like? Julia: Recognizing that you have a choice at every moment to choose the words and actions you take. You have a choice even when you feel justified to be mean or respond harshly. You have a choice to be compassionate and loving toward your partner regardless of their behavior or your circumstances. Often the thing that starts an argument is very small. Choosing to engage with compassion and tenderness is important. It is a choice to give them understanding when they are where they are; when they are frustrated, grouchy, or hungry. We tend to do that well for a child why not do it for your partner?

Alexis: Communicating with love is sometimes the words you use, but it is also giving some silence. That’s something that is challenging. But sometimes the most generous and loving thing is to offer silence to let each other move through the emotions of the moment. Sometimes it is good to wait until you get to a better place before you talk.  Leaving a disagreement is not something we would recommend for an extended period of time because then resentment could build. But giving a moment so you can take a deep breath and feel the emotion is important.

How do you know when to use different forms of communication with each other? Julia:
We have a “by every means necessary approach”. You need to realize that words are sometimes inadequate. It is just like you using strategic planning in your job. You have to ask yourself – what is my goal and how do I achieve my goal. If we are talking about something that is already heavy, why not try to find a different approach to make it more light?  Alexis: I agree with Julia. That comes out of who we are as creative people. If things are complicated, regular conversations just will not do. There is always a way to relate. You have to find what works for you.

What role does spirituality play in your relationship?
Alexis: During our relationship we both have had a huge amount of spiritual growth.  Julia is right now in her initiation year on her path to become an Ifa priest and also draws on her upbringing as a Baptist PK (Preacher’s Kid).  Julia: Alexis is reclaiming the wisdom of Shinnecock ancestors and adding those practices to her work as a Black feminist love evangelist.   We consider our relationship itself as prayer in practice and ancestor reverence in the best sense.

What role does sensuality play in your relationship?
Alexis: We practice sensuality and sexuality as a way to practice liberation, a way to unlearn the internalized oppression that society has put on our bodies.  We find our sensuality healing and affirming.  We literally make love and that love nurtures our relationship to each other and also our relationships to our communities and our spiritual practices. Julia: Communicating with our senses is one of our primary forms of communication. We have senses for a multitude of reasons. I say use them all to express yourself, especially your love.

Love that you view sensuality and sexuality as practice of liberation. Can you share more? Alexis: Our bodies can be a major site of oppression. We are told that our bodies are wrong. We hold shame and blame in our bodies.  It is healing to practice love as liberation.  The experience of being loved and being in love, and trusting that the desires of my body are safe and affirmed pushes back against what society has taught me about my body and my very being not being “right”. Trusting that I am right, divine in intimate space is a way of learning who I am again.  It is a space to tap into that knowledge and that’s profoundly healing and liberating.  I can create joy with my body and with my partner and we affirm each other’s bodies and each other. It is a way to be really present. When we know what that feels like, we won’t settle for anything less.  We can walk around every day in the world remembering what it feels like in our bodies to be completely divine.

What advice would you give to other couples?
Julia: We would remind all couples, like we remind ourselves, to remember that you have the opportunity to choose to honor your partner in every moment.  You can choose to honor the love that you experience with the sweetness, consideration and care that you are capable of.   It is important to support your partner in their growth and know that as each person grows you can grow together and stay fresh and ecstatic in your love!

Love is choice and honoring your partner is a choice. How do you make sure you stay committed to that choice? Julia: Being accountable to your partner and being confident in your commitment to love. Your partner has the power and right to reflect back to you when you are not being loving, kind, etc. Alexis is good at gently correcting me if I am getting worked up in inappropriate ways and I appreciate and respect that. She is on my side and I am on hers.

Alexis: By being present and making choices. By doing my spiritual work so that I have the capacity to do the work and to make the choice. For example, if you are tired, you might not have the capacity to make sure that you are considerate, present and compassionate. Every morning I get up early to  write a poem – it is my version of morning coffee, my prayer. That gives me the capacity to stay present. That gives me freedom because I have done those things that make me me first. When I get up early, I don’t have to negotiate and navigate for anything or anybody so it makes it easy for me to do that. That way I don’t feel like I am depriving myself. Writing poetry and dance are important to me to do everyday and as long as that happens I find myself able to be considerate of other people’s emotions, needs and processes all day long.

Julia: Walking in an amazing relationship all of the time makes it easy to make the choice. Being with someone where you can be who you need to be and do what you need to do makes it easier to relate to a person with compassionate, grace and tenderness. I have that with Alexis and I realize that she is a gift. It is a gift to be exuberantly loved for who you are everyday.

What has your relationship taught you most about yourself?
Alexis: This experience of being loved unconditionally and fully has given me permission to love myself better. To take care of myself better and to be more generous with myself.

How are you taking care of yourself better? Alexis: Being loved by Julia has taught me to be more compassionate with myself. For example, Julia says feed yourself like somebody loves you. I know that I wouldn’t allow someone that I love to eat popcorn all day, so I feed myself better. Many times I will cook for others, but not for myself. Julia has helped me with that. Being with Julia has allowed me to love others better too. Since I am experiencing profound love, it makes it easier to love others. I feel so blessed because Julia has taught me to love as a practice.

Julia: The experience of partnering romantically and creatively with Alexis has taught me the power of intention. I consistently and strategically developed my character and the practice of my purpose to be ready for an excellent companion and collaborator. The biggest lesson and gift is that she exists and chooses to walk in love with me. By extension, I can set standards and intentions for our relationship and every area of life while consistently and strategically pursuing their tranifestation (transform + manifest). Lesson!

What have you learned from each other? Julia: A “do it now” approach. I have a lot of ideas and intentions to make things happen. Alexis has a “do it now” approach. It is a way that she raises the standards of what I can get done. She models that even in the way she loves me. I have learned about Black Feminism and the legacies of Black women and Black lesbians living and loving one another and their communities throughout history. Alexis: Julia is the “king of the bright side”. She has taught me and is teaching me that there is an amazing side of everything, and that even our challenges are opportunities for a miracle.

What word or vision describes/characterizes your love? Alexis: Expansive. This love is so powerful that it feels infinite and feels that there is space for me to be me. It feels bigger than me - even in the way that it manifests. It is like the ocean and a sky filled with stars. Julia: Evidence. Whatever faith I have, this relationship grows it. Whatever I dream but have not yet gathered the audacity to even try to realize it, this partnership transforms me and the world around me to actualize it. To me Alexis’s very existence is proof of magic, miracles and the divine among us.
Learn more about Alexis and Julia and their work.

Interviewed by Minister SharRon Jamison

Friday, March 8, 2013

Strengthen Your Relationship by Loving and Learning

What is learning?  Learning is a process of active engagement. It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world and their surroundings. It involves developing skills, knowledge, understanding, values and feelings to be and do better.  And, hopefully, it not only leads to  improvement but also leads to the desire to learn more. Learning is critical; it is essential for our well-being. And believe it or not, it is also vital for the health of our relationships.

Loving and learning go hand in hand. Why? Because you can’t really love someone if you don’t know who you are. And, you can’t really love someone without learning who they are. To have a loving and fulfilling relationship, there are three types of learning that are needed to support, sustain and solidify a loving union.  You have to learn ABOUT, FROM and WITH your partner.  

Learning ABOUT your partner is probably the easiest, yet the least intimate, way to learn. Just by surfing the internet, you can obtain information about her education, credit score, criminal record, employment history, home ownership status and any other information you deem important. You can also learn about your partner from interacting with her friends and from her selection of friends. You can learn about her from her families and her colleagues. You can also learn about her by observing her in different settings and in different situations. Whatever you want to know, there are resources to help you learn and get the information you want and need.

But learning ABOUT your partner’s history is not enough to really get to know her.  You still have to learn about her in order to respect her, trust her and have empathy for her. You have to learn about her communication skills (or lack of) and her love language. You also have to learn about her to determine if you are truly compatible and if you have chemistry. You have to learn about her values, perspectives and how she  views their world.  Without learning ABOUT your partner you do not have the basic information  needed to successfully love her. 

Even though you initially learn  ABOUT your partner– her history, culture, values, temperament, and other aspects of her –there are some pitfalls to relying on information obtained from external sources and from your own observations. First, the more you learn, the more you tend to believe that you know all there is to know. And as a result, you stop learning and discovering who she is; you start to assume. You start to think that you know what is best for her. You start making decisions for her. You start labeling and limiting her. You start confining her based on your own assumptions and biases. In many ways, you stifle her, you and the relationship. And as a result, the relationship fails.

Relationships fail because learning ABOUT is never sufficient or effective to build a relationship or develop true intimacy.  Why? Because having the facts, does not mean that you know the truth. Knowing events does not mean you appreciate the circumstances surrounding the events. Knowing her history does not mean you really know her. To really get to know her, you must progress to the next level of learning –learning FROM.

Learning FROM your partner is considerably more powerful and more endearing that just learning about her. When we learn FROM our partners, we are bestowing honor on them. When we ask questions, seek understanding, inquire about their thoughts, we are saying in essence: I need you to teach me.  You are saying : you are important,  you are unique,  I can’t do this alone and  I won’t be successful at loving you  without you.  The very act of asking and listening gives your partner permission to tell you exactly how she feels, sees, knows and experiences the world.  And when your partner really knows that you care, she is more inclined to tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear. Learning from her promotes intimacy, N-2- ME-See, and trust.

Despite the benefit of learning FROM our partners, many people still struggle to open their minds and hearts to learn from their lovers after they have learned about the lovers. But  learning FROM is more important than learning about. Learning FROM your lover allows her to fill in the gaps in her history that cannot be explained by data. She is the only one you can tell you what the experiences meant, and how the events/experiences shaped her. She is the only one who can put the facts into context. And as I stated earlier, learning about her may give act facts, but learning from her gives you the truth.

Consider this example: You learn that your partner attended 3 colleges before she graduated. That’s a fact. But without learning from her, you would not know that she had to finance her education and sometimes she had to quit school or transfer schools to save money to complete her education. That’s the truth. If you love you partner, you must give her an opportunity to share her truth. You must give her an opportunity to share variables and circumstances that mere facts can’t explain. In a loving relationship, you must learn FROM her, to really know her. 

Despite the benefits of learning FROM our partners,  many people struggle  to learn from their loved ones. And, we struggle primarily for three key reasons. First, we all have a need to feel superior to something or somebody which limits our willingness to open our minds and hearts to others. In a nutshell, we all suffer from varying degrees of  arrogance.  Secondly,  many of us are not secure enough to admit when we don’t know something so we continue to conceal what we do not know until our ignorance finally catches up to us. Thirdly, sometimes we have difficulty learning because our  partners don’t know how to teach us in a way that we find helpful, hopeful and healing.  And since we are unable or unwilling to learn or since they are unable or willing to teach in a way that resonates,  we don’t absorb information from them.

Let’s face it - arrogance, ignorance and poor communication have ruined many relationships, and if not successfully addressed, will also ruin yours. So try to keep in mind that when you learn, she learns. When she learns, you learn. Remember that your partner can be a great source of information that can make you a broader thinker, a better employee, a more effective parent,  a more loving person and a more insightful human being.  Learning FROM is a lifelong attitude that enriches you, honors her and  strengthens your relationship.
The rarest, but the most powerful way of learning is learning WITH. This way of learning recognizes that the best learning happens in relationships and in mutuality where neither person feels above or beneath the other.  It is a relationship that honors that each partner is simultaneously  a teacher and student willing to journey through life together. It is a type of learning that builds  trust, resilience and deep respect.  

Learning WITH also sharpens you in ways that could never happen alone. Yet, many of us find learning WITH someone uncomfortable.  But let’s face it – your partner has different skills, talents and experiences that makes her an expert in areas that you are not. You may have education and abilities that she does not have also. The blessing is that if you are both secure in who you are and secure in the relationship, you can teach each other. You can share knowledge that multiplies both of your abilities and skill sets.  You can have synergy.

Learning WITH can only  happen in an environment of great trust,  mutual respect and mutual humility. The concept of learning WITH appreciates that you are equals who have chosen to be interdependent and connected in good times and in bad times. Learning WITH celebrates that there is mutual investment in and mutual gain from the union. And most of all, learning WITH is essential for a long-lasting, mutually satisfying relationship.

Learning is important for entering and growing in a relationship. So keep the following in mind.
·         Learning about provides facts about your partner, but not necessarily the truth. Only your partner can provide the context to give meaning to the facts.
·         Learning from provides understanding and helps you build enduring and trusting relationships.  So be open to learning and growing from your partner. Don’t allow arrogance, ignorance and poor communication skills limit you. She is and can be a wealth of information.
·         Learning with builds loving relationships where both partners probe each other’s hearts, minds and souls in a way that fosters trust, authenticity, growth and interdependence.  Learning with transitions your relationship from “you/me” to “we”.
The African proverb says that “learning is like sailing the ocean, no one has ever seen it all”.  So continue to love and learn, and learn to love to experience a love that no one has ever seen or experienced before. You deserve it, and your partner does too.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Happy Couple Highlight: Sharlene & Julie

Sharlene Kinscy & Julie Garcia from New York

How long have you been together? We have been together since July 23, 1995 – almost 18 years.

How did you get together/meet?  We met at a summer cook-out. 

What was the initial attraction?  Sharlene:  I was attracted to Julie’s confidence. She had swag. She carried herself in a way that she knew she was the finest thing in the world, but was vulnerable at the same time. I liked how she was able to handle herself. Julie: I was attracted to Sharlene’s personality. We were playing cards, and she was so  easy to be around. She made me feel as if I had known her for a while. She made me feel safe.

What would you say is the key to the success of your relationship? Sharlene: One key is being able to step back and regroup when things get heated between us. We both have a strong desire to make our relationship work and we both have a “You’re the LOVE of MY LIFE feeling about one another.”

In the almost 18 years that you have been together, how were you able to re-group, re-define and/or re-negotiate your relationship? Sharlene: Counseling was helpful. We started counseling as a couple, and then I went as an individual. We had to re-group because I had to learn new skills, for example, I had to learn how to be better at conflict. I had to learn not to kill her with my tongue because my words were like a sharp razor. I had to learn to control me because I would sometimes get physical. I had to re-group and learn what I should never do, and I now I have a “never do” list. 1) I will never resort to violence. I will never raise my hand to her for any reason. 2) I will never use my words to inflict intentional harm. No matter what she does or what she says, I will never get to that place anymore. Julie: I had to re-group too. I have to develop my own “never” rules. 1) I will never have to finish an argument. I had to learn to step off also and to give her time. I had to learn to stop pursing her and to stop needing to have the last word. Pursing her never resolved the conflict. 2) I will never have an affair. I know that I want to grow old with this woman. There is no place that I would rather be than with her. 3) I will never settle. If I am not happy, I will leave. I see so many couples staying together and they are miserable. No amount of money or anything else can make me stay if I am not happy.

How do you deal with and face challenges that might come up in your relationship? Julie: Sharlene hurting me with her words was a challenge. I was raised differently than she was, and I wasn’t accustomed to hearing mean things from someone I loved. We went through a hard time, and I had to learn to love me.  I still loved her, but I needed her to make some changes. I couldn’t allow her to hurt me with her words. Everybody has their own baggage, and we were both raised to be dominant. She is a strong woman, and so am I. We had to learn to work together. Sharlene: Julie having an affair during the 4th year of our relationship was very difficult for me. It made me doubt me, her, and her love. There was a lot of questioning, but we decided to fight for our relationship. I know that I need faithfulness, and we both are committed to that. Julie: We have been together so long so whatever the argument is, I know that it really doesn’t matter. I love her, and that’s what’s important. Sharlene: There are no hard and set rules for any given situation. We’re constantly learning new tools to communicate with one another. We just make it work.

You mentioned learning new tools. What are they: Sharlene: I had to learn when I was reaching the point of no return and to take control of my emotions. Now, I no longer get to that point and Julie says she has noticed the difference in me. I also learned how to relinquish my need for order and control regarding household chores. For example, when I want something done, I am ok if it’s not done right away or not done my way. Julie: I have learned to concede on things that are not important. I have learned just to give up when things don’t really matter. Lol

Why do feel that couples have trouble staying friends: Julie: One, they don’t know how to fight fairly. It is never just about winning and losing. It is about making sure you are heard and working with your partner to resolve issues. Also, we pick people who we are not really compatible with. People who like oranges, pick apples and then wonder why they are not friends. If you are very different, is it hard to be friends. We know couples who have been together for more than 10 years and have been unhappy since the third year. The sad part is that after 3 years, people will just stay even if they are not happy. Sharlene: I believe that you have to be a healthy individual first before you can be part of a couple. I have sister friends and confidants, and you have to be able to cultivate relationships outside of the partnership. You have to have love and support coming in from other sources. It is also important to have mutual friends, but be mindful that you can’t pick your partner’s friends. Unless there is disrespect, your partner should be able to have her friends even if you don’t like them. Julie: It is important to make sure that you have the same values and some of the same interests too. For example, if you like to laugh, don’t date someone who doesn’t have a sense of humor. That’s not smart.

After 18 years, how do you stay connected: Sharlene: Work at it. Seek out places where you and your relationship are affirmed. You can’t exist in a cocoon. Maintain an environment that supports your relationship. Read a book, go to a seminar/ conference or do whatever you can to learn how to stay connected. Julie: Go to counseling. Sometimes you need a person who can hear both sides of the story and hear what you both are saying. Sometimes you need that to stay connected. If you can’t hear each other, it is hard to stay connected. Learn ways to be intimate even when experiencing sexual droughts.

What role does spirituality play in your relationship? Sharlene: We are both very aware that there is a Higher Power, The Creator, (for me The Savior Jesus Christ) who is in control. We believe that prayer is the connection to the source that sustains us. Julie: We worship together and we know that we are blessed to have each other. We are thankful. We sometimes pray together because I think it is important for partners to share the same spiritual beliefs. Sharlene: I pray constantly, but for Julie it is more of a process. Some nights I see her on her knees by the bed praying and that does something for me.

What role does sensuality play in your relationship? Sharlene: I think my baby is fine and so does she, LOL. I love her breast and her big beautiful brown eyes. She knows how to get my juices flowing (when she wants to). Julie: I’m just as attracted to her physically and sexually as I was the first time I saw her.

How has romance changed over the 18 years: Sharlene: Prior to the conference, we would have our peaks and valleys. We would have droughts and times of ecstasy. We learned that was normal and that we have to talk about it. Before the conference, I was burying my head in the sand when there was a drought. I am coming to terms that we have to talk about it instead of feeling inadequate. Julie: After the Create Love Conference, we talked about the “whispering” exercise because it was so powerful. Last Sunday, we started the “whispering” exercise with each other. We whispered in each other’s ear and it took us to a whole different level. It was so arousing. It was like giving a battery a boost.

How do you make her feel special:  Julie: We still like each other and I still like to make her laugh. I can come out the shower naked and jump around to make her laugh, we just enjoy each other. Sharlene: It is a way that we can still look at each other that makes each other feel special. It feels as if I am looking at her for the first time. Julie still makes me giggle like a little girl, she still makes me blush. After almost 18 years, that’s special.

How have you dealt with the physical changes that have occurred over the 18 years: Sharlene: That’s hard. I am not sure how to address all of the physical and emotional changes that I have gone through. I have put on weight, and I am very self-conscious. It sometimes affects my confidence, but Julie always reminds me that I am beautiful. I am working on it but I am not there yet. Julie: I think Sharlene is beautiful and I will always be there for her. I am almost 55 years old and I still got it going on, lol. I don’t think that I’ve changed (physically) over the past 18yrs. I might have a few more gray hairs, can’t walk as fast, can’t jump as high, can’t bend as far but a sista still got it going on.

What has she taught you? Julie: Sharlene has taught me perseverance. For 18 years, we were able to fight through difficult situations and get over hurdles. Sharlene has taught me to never give up and that real love can endure hurtful setbacks. Sharlene: Julie has taught me to be kinder and to be softer- to show more tolerance in uncomfortable situations and unplanned events; such as unexpected house guests. Most of all, she has taught me that I am a warrior and a giver -that I can love someone even when they’re not acting lovable.

What one word describes/characterizes your love: Sharlene: Love- Complete and total love even in the midst of hardship and struggle. Even in the midst of joy and peace, there is an unbreakable thread of love. Julie tells me that “you put a string of lights around my heart”. She always makes me feel special.  I know that she is my soul mate, and I have never felt differently. Despite everything we have been through, I know that she is the love of my life. Julie:  Blessed: I am blessed to have this woman in my life. She has never cared what anyone else said. She knew what I was in her heart no matter what. I am blessed and I am so grateful that I have her in my life. I know that she is the one I will grow old with.

(Interview conducted and written by Minister SharRon Jamison)

We are grateful to Sharlene & Julie for sharing your amazing love with us at Create Love for Women Who Love Women!

Imani Evans
Create Love! For Women Who Love Women
Creator & Co-Founder

SharRon Jamison
Create Love! For Women Who Love Women