XIV: The Most Tender Moments
Happy spooky season my lovely pumpkins. Can you believe it’s October already? I feel like in the blink of an eye summer has passed us by, and somehow the fall equinox came and went without so much as a peep. Soon the leaves will have changed colour and before we know it winter will be upon us. I mean the seasons' change is nothing new, it’s nature's clockwork after all. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, repeat, again and again. Over and over I experience the ebb and flow of seasons change, yet somehow it still surprises me. Somehow I’m still never ready for when the time comes. Sometimes, even though we know something will come to pass it’s still impossible to predict how it will affect us, or more than that, how it will change us.
At the start of this year, I was living in Sudbury, Ontario as I took on my first professorship. Now, if you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you’ll know that my relationship with Sudbury is quite complicated for a multitude of reasons. Being in the city is often some of the most rewarding and challenging times I experience, and this six-month stint was no exception.
The winter months in northern Ontario are harsh, especially for someone like myself who has an incredibly difficult time regulating my body temperature. But amidst the cold, I found community and flings of connection through friends, family, and the ever atrocious dating apps. Now if you’ve been fortunate enough to never have felt the call of the apps, let me break it down for you right quick. They’re awful. This isn’t to say that there aren’t cool people on there, but the overarching tone and rules of engagement are an absolute mess, and dare I say, all over the damn place?
Most people fall into two categories, what I like to classify as the monsters and mice. Monsters are those that have heinous profiles chock full of problematic rhetoric, inappropriate images, or blatant lies. Sometimes they’re really good at disguising themselves and you make the mistake of matching with them on for them to turn out to be horribly disgusting, racist, or just straight-up whack. Mice on the other hand have more toned-down profiles, in fact, sometimes they’re just plain boring. If you make the mistake of matching with them they either have little or nothing to say, very reminiscent of pulling teeth or breaking your back to carry the entire conversation. Sure, not everyone falls into one of these two oversimplified categories, but scouring through the endless profiles to find someone that doesn’t is exhausting, to say the least.
Around March I realized that what I was looking for couldn’t be discerned this way. Although there were many laughable moments, the comedic potential of the apps was not worth the mental ping-pong my mind was going through. What I want can’t be found by sifting through strangers' profiles and playing dating roulette. What I desire isn’t quantifiable by how good your pictures look, or how clever your bio is. In fact, what I need doesn’t even hinge on a romantic connection. For you see dear readers, the thing that I yearn for more than anything is tenderness.
Tenderness is defined as gentleness and affection, (it’s also described as the quality of being succulent and easily chewed, but let’s just focus on the former for the time being). As a Black femme person oftentimes the trip of the tough Black woman who does all, needs no support, and has an attitude to boot is prescribed upon me. In many of my previous relationships, I have been the primary caretaker, the kind and caring soul, the one who checks in and carries my partners, and friends' burdens when they can’t carry the weight. And while I love supporting those I love, somewhere along the way I began to ask, who was helping me carry mine?
I’m sure many of us have a list, whether physical or mental of what our ideal or dream partner should have, do, or be. Over the past few months my therapist has had me ponder how my list has changed since my last relationship and for so long I was stumped. But, one day while having a conversation with a very dear friend of mine it hit me. Though we are not romantically linked, the gentle and kind energy they offer me is unlike any other space I have been in before. And for that, ER, I thank you for your tenderness.
I came across a TikTok a little while ago that spoke about how there is love all over the place, and how we can find it beyond a romantic relationship, hell beyond human connection. It stuck with me and I began to think about the ways in which we can access fulfillment for our nuanced human needs through a variety of facets of life. Tenderness, like love, can be found in romantic, familial, platonic and so many other forms of relationships. And just like love, we can find it within ourselves and through connections to activities, places, and things.
Just last month I booked myself a hair appointment, and with the encouragement of my friend I splurged on an in-studio wash, steam treatment, and scalp massage, things I’ve never experienced beyond my own
doing. And as I sat in that Black hair salon, among beautiful Black bodies, closing my eyes and feeling the water run through my hair, I felt my soul exhale. I felt tender. This magical experience resonated through my body all day, and for that, I immensely thank Braids by Bilngwe, particularly my hair stylist Paula for feeding my deprived soul.
I won’t lie to you though, it isn’t always easy to find these things within yourself, or even on your own. There are many nights where I lay awake thinking of a tender touch, or words in my ear. And I recognize that I’ll continue to have those moments, but the hope is that by finding the things that grant me tenderness, little by little they’ll start to fade. So, for the past several days to weeks, to months, and even forthcoming years, I have and continue to ask myself, what makes me feel tender? Where do I receive tenderness on my own? And from others?
Well, first and foremost hot water like baths, hot tubs, and spas. Like a tight caress, these experiences make me feel tender and warm. Massages are also wonderful, though ill-frequent, which makes their occurrence even more special. Magical motions that put my body and soul to rest and usually lull me to sleep. I find tenderness in the kisses of my cat. Her tiny soft face rubbing against mine, and her gentle purrs and affectionate token of our tender connection. The care and comfort of hugs, and cuddles both physical and intellectual (See "self-proclaimed footnote" below) are some of the most tender moments.
And so I’ve embarked on my journey for tenderness, imploring myself to become more comfortable receiving and giving it to those around me. Most recently, I went to a concert with one of my loveliest friends, and the performer, Joy Oladokun shared a vulnerable moment about her experience as a Black queer femme person in a society that so often shows us nothing but animosity. And as she bared her soul, I too felt exposed, sharing in her exhaustion and dismay. My eyes went wide, tears welling as my cheeks warmed. But, I was embraced by my friend, their love giving me the strength to make it through the rest of the show. And although they were tender with me, the audience was not tender to her.
While folks clapped and cheered, encouraging her to continue, the vulnerability of that moment was lost on them as they continued to consume her, some fans even making such a spectacle in attempts to pull her attention away from the show and onto themselves. And though I know she will never see this, I hope she can feel the energy I am releasing for her. For in that moment I wanted nothing more than to climb the stage and embrace her in my arms and give her the tenderness she deserved. I may not be able to change that moment, but I can encourage you all to listen to her incredibly powerful music and support her remarkable artistic journey.
Joy’s music is a tender symphonic masterpiece, and while I thank her for creating it, I want to express the most gratitude to my lovely friend Sam for introducing me to her music, and for always being tender with me. Love, care, and tenderness are wondrous things that exist in so many forms, places, and people. And as we embark on the journey towards another cold season I encourage you all to ask yourself where you find these things within yourself, but more importantly, remind those you love that they can find them within you.
Cheers and be tender,
You may be asking, Ra’anaa, what prey tell is an intellectual cuddle? Well, my good chum, I want you to envision a tender hug between you and a loved one, think of the serotonin boost, the way you may melt into one another. Now imagine having an incredibly intimate conversation or emotional connection with someone, and experiencing a similar feeling in your mind and soul. In that moment you feel wholly understood and cared for by this individual, comforted and intellectually cuddled if you will.