How can we become better lovers to ourselves, our romantic partners, our friends and family, and our broader communities? This question sits at the center of every love-related conversation I have as a writer, cultural critic, podcast host, and human who’s Black and woman and queer and feminist and sometimes poly and all-the-time curious about love, pleasure, evolution, and revolution. “Love No Limit,” the column I’m writing for Bitch, is a creative space where I will explore love in more expansive ways than we typically imagine it; it will be a safe space where we can discover, together, how we can find, foster, and harbor the most radical kinds of joy within our hearts, minds, and bodies.
As a thinker and writer, I’m not concerned with the superficial, patriarchal, heteronormative conversations that only focus on romantic love and treat women as if they’re solely responsible for the success (or failure) of their romantic relationships. What about self-love? How do our primary relationships and childhood familial trauma guide who and how we love? Why don’t we celebrate the beautiful, intimate connections we experience in platonic love relationships? How do we practice pleasure principles where our needs and desires are centered and prioritized? How do we negotiate the kinds of partnerships where we’re not expected to manage entire households and the care of children, alone, while pursuing full careers and personal goals that belong to us? Do we even really desire deeply to choose monogamous partnerships at all?
How do we make space for love while battling various kinds of oppression—including racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia? And how do we use our radical imaginations to create and build the kinds of communities, and world, we’ve been waiting for—a world where we can experience true freedom regardless of our race, gender identity, and sexuality? When we imagine a world for ourselves that’s built in equity and healing rather than oppression and subjugation, we must, as feminist scholar bell hooks writes in her 2002 book, Communion: The Female Search for Love, create space where “love can be recognized as a unifying principle that can lead us to seek and use power wisely.” Building that world can begin with learning to love and value ourselves foremost—before our lovers, partners, children, friends, and whomever else we’re hardwired to love above ourselves. Maybe building this new love framework is connected to actively seeking the kinds of uncompromising pleasure we deserve.
We are responsible for making ourselves whole, but somehow, we place a lot of unfair expectations on others as we love them and hope to receive love from them in return. And in doing so, we give up our power.
Love and justice go hand in hand, so maybe reconnecting love work to justice work will move us more toward the love we seek. I don’t have all the answers. Though I’ve been writing about love and relationships for more than a decade, I still have more questions than answers. But I am committed to learning and sharing as I move along my own love journey—and I’d like you to join me. After all, having more questions than answers about love—and experiencing devastating heartbreak—is what initially led me to researching and writing about love: I’d followed all the prescripted advice for having a traditional “happily ever after”: I dated and then married; we had a child; and we bought a home to nest in. Though I’d followed all the rules, I was miserable, and I was clueless about who I was and how I needed to be loved. I felt trapped. I’d lost myself while becoming a mother and wife, and I resented the expectation that my entire life needed to change, while my husband wasn’t expected to modify his life at all.
No one taught me about trauma bonds or that I’d been socialized to believe that love and abuse could coexist. I didn’t know that nonmonogamous relationships could be fruitful or that it’s perfectly reasonable for some women, myself included, to struggle with monogamy. Though I had lots of internal work to do around self-love and self-discovery, I kept waiting for romantic love to fill up all the empty holes and broken places within me. Of course, my marriage failed, and so did so many of my other relationships, because I was looking for other people—my husband and even my child—to make me feel happy, whole, and significant. To borrow from the great Toni Morrison: I didn’t realize I’m my own best thing. We are responsible for making ourselves whole, but somehow, we place a lot of unfair expectations on others as we love them and hope to receive love from them in return. And in doing so, we give up our power.
We view love as a feeling and as infatuation rather than as a verb—a space of continual work and investment. And our views of love and our expectations of perfection in love affect all of our relationships, including those that are romantic, platonic, and communal. Being loving, even to ourselves, requires daily practice, and we can’t hope to be better lovers to others until we do the work of better loving ourselves. Much of the work of self-love and self-discovery means disrupting our ideas about respectability and even decolonizing what we believe represents beauty and worthiness. And for those who are marginalized, constant gaslighting can lead us to believe we’re not enough, and therefore, we don’t deserve love and care.
I am big-eyed and big-mouthed. I believe love work can save us and save a world that seems as though it’s one huge dumpster fire. So, as we embark on this journey together, I have one question: What have you learned (or are learning) about being a better lover? And send your questions about becoming a better lover to firstname.lastname@example.org; I’ll work diligently to answer them. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter and Instagram.