By Jerusha Gray
In 2011, I found myself single for the first time since the summer after high school. My main squeeze (three-year-old D) and I were living in a small studio apartment. I was in my mid-twenties and sleeping on a bunk bed with a three-year-old. It was tiny. It was safe. It was ours.
For years, marriage and I had gone together like peanut butter and Nutella. I’d thrown myself into becoming the perfect mother and wife. I lost myself in cookbooks and mommy blogs. So I had an identity crisis when my marriage of six years ended in my husband’s adventures into non-monogamy. I built up in my head this vision of what being a successful woman looked like. My self-worth was directly connected to how well I met expectations. I didn’t fit that mold anymore. What the hell did that make me?
I figured it was my turn to sow some oats. I was young. I was educated. I had great boobs. I was ready to see what I had been missing all those years as a housewife.
So I joined a free dating site. I crafted a masterful profile that blended sarcasm, wit, and just the right amount of innuendo. I gave myself a charley horse in my shoulder whilst taking a few carefully lit pictures—with an actual camera; this was pre-iPhone days. Don’t judge!—and hit publish.
Dating was intoxicating. I had forgotten that I’m cool. I listen to metal and bluegrass. I’m an artist and a die-hard fan of John Waters. I love a good dick joke. Dating allowed me to see myself from another perspective. I was vibrant and interesting. I was worthy of someone’s time. I was also dating myself into the ground.
I worked hard to keep my dating life separate from my home life. I juggled the demands of a full social calendar and the needs of being a full-time student, employee, and mom. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I met a few amazing people that blossomed into true friendships. I also met some downright strange folk, some of whom I affectionately called: Captain Silverback, Compulsively Vacuuming Man, Baron Von Toy Hoarder, and Florida Man.
Throughout the whole process I documented my adventures and misadventures in my journal. I recently ran across this gem, “Rules for Dating Jerusha.” In light of the onslaught of special snowflakes swirling around the dating pool, I post this public service announcement.
Rules for Dating Jerusha
- Please don’t open a conversation with, “You have a nice rack, want to practice making babies?” This will not end well for you. Trust me. The sexiest part of me is between my ears. You need to make sweet, sweet love to my mind before you are getting anywhere near the rest of me.
- Please don’t text me unsolicited pictures of your junk. Just don’t.
- I recognize that it is healthy to engage in discourse regarding previous relationships. However, I am neither your best friend, your mother, nor your therapist.
- Compliments are welcome, but style criticism is not. Yes, I like large earrings. No, you don’t have to like them. Yes, I am heavily tattooed. As for how I will look when I am 80? The answer is: an inked old lady still listening to punk and funk.
- After kissing me goodbye—please don’t proclaim that I should have charged for that. You are not being cute. It makes you a douche.
- Collections and hobbies are great. **caveat** If action figures and Nerf guns fill every room in your home and garage, this would be something you should mention beforehand. Nobody likes a surprise toy hoarder.
- If we set up a date, please actually show up. My time is precious and babysitters are expensive. Calling me after you stand me up, while stoned and drunk and telling me that you grow pot in your closet and used to run a prostitution ring in Florida—yeah, not so much. Thanks for letting me know—but it would have been better if you had used that as your opening act and not after I invested my time.
- (same person) Please don’t text me at 2 a.m. to tell me that I am missing out, then apologizing, and send me unsolicited pictures of your junk. I am sending you a big internet high five. You are majestic, I will give you that. It isn’t going to change my mind. You are still an asshole.
But in truth, I was lonely. The boundaries and rules of my life and self-worth had changed. I wanted so badly to hear from someone that I was worth the space I take up. I was running from the quiet; trying to fill the spaces between the person I was and the person I was to become. I was lost.
“I have to admit; I am having a hard one today. It is difficult to stay focused on the good things, the important things when D is gone for the weekend with his dad. When I am here by myself, the grief of the life that was but is no more hits me like a tsunami and carries me away for a while. It seems so strange on days like today when I am allowing myself to feel and mourn that I don’t mourn R [my ex-husband]. I am truly free from him and our marriage. I mourn what my life was— being with D all the time, keeping my home, spending time as a family with friends, quiet nights on the couch intertwined with someone comfortably watching what I wanted to watch, free-time, and sense of purpose. These are the things that I mourn. The busy-ness of my life right now is my saving grace. It keeps me focused on our future and helps to keep this ache in the void at bay. So here’s to graveyard shift, preschool crafts, and math homework.” — journal entry from the same time
The responsibilities of this new life gutted me. Dating gave me permission to forge space for myself. It was a way to seize control. Here’s the thing about seizing control: Make sure you are seizing control of something that pulls you in the right direction. I suck at creating balance for myself. I felt like I had failed at being a housewife and a woman. If I couldn’t reign as queen in my own home, then I should be able to be a strong, independent, sexual powerhouse, right?
“In all this anger and personal change, there is hope, too. I can feel it pulling at my bones, mixed with each breath and in each sticky faced hug with my little man. At least with this well of emotions I am aware. The pain and doubt in my life come in waves but I am refusing to be numb to it anymore. That feels kind of brave. My motto has always been, ‘Keep your head down and your feet moving.’ I can’t live that way anymore. I have my head and my heart up. We (my heart and I) are abused and damaged but not dead yet. I find hope in that. I have no idea what to do. I am not sure how to tie off the loose ends. I refuse to let fear keep me from making the hard decisions.” — journal entry
I was achingly lonely—a loneliness that stuck to my ribs and followed me around. It was (and is) terrifying to sit in my aloneness. My natural reaction is to numb out and find things and people to fill those spaces. I have to force myself to feel all the things. It doesn’t feel good. It blows. It blows so hard. God forbid someone see that I am struggling. Half the time I don’t know what the hell is going on. I remind myself that no one actually has their shit together.
I grew up thinking there were two kinds of women: the homemaker and the sexy independent powerhouse. I land somewhere in between expectations; I was chasing after a role that I couldn’t fit into even if I caught it. My worth is independent of my gender, of being a parent and a partner, and my sexuality. I am a heart and a mind, a body, and a spirit. I am more than my uterus. I have a right to be here simply by claiming it. I have to give myself the permission to take up this space. The rules of my roles can be written by me as I grow.
I don’t have it all figured out. What I do know now is that there is more to me than a carefully lit profile pic and a witty tagline. There is more to me than diapers and cartoons. I am more than a Tuesday night dinner for two and a movie. I still need to be seen. I don’t need another person to light the spark to illuminate myself. That spark, tiny as it may be, can only come from me.
Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores. Find her on Instagram @palegrayink and at www.facebook.com/palegrayink.