Let's just pretend we're all in Old Havana

If there's anything you need to know about me, it's that I live for thematic dressing. When I was packing for Cuba, my goal was to recreate all of Chiquita Banana's most iconic outfits. Looking back, I feel like I accomplished this, short of wearing a fruit basket on my head which to be honest, had I had one, would've gotten worn.

"It's a incredibly easy aesthetic to recreate even if you don't find yourself skipping through the streets (read: stopping at every vintage car you see for a photo op) of Old Havana."

The formula was simple: primary colors, ruffles, an off the shoulder moment here, a thigh high split there. It's a incredibly easy aesthetic to recreate even if you don't find yourself skipping through the streets (read: stopping at every vintage car you see for a photo op) of Old Havana. It's also a very affordable aesthetic to recreate as evidenced by the fact that nothing I brought with me was over  $30 because let's be real, after paying for the trip—airfare, AirBnb, food, transportation, souvenirs—that's all this jet-setter could afford.

Now I'm not saying that you won't be able to splurge on anything above $30 if you feel the urge to dress thematically, but if you are in the same poor-person camp as me and you're looking for affordable summer dresses, I've got your back, boo!

I want to write an all-encompassing recap of my trip to Cuba, but quite honestly I’m a) too lazy for all that and b) answering any specific questions you have about Cuba over on Instagram (feel free to DM me, folks). More important than these two reasons, though, is this: of all the things I could tell you about Cuba—where to eat, what to pack, where to stay—there is only one thing I feel compelled to tell you.

But first, let me start by introducing you to three men I met in Cuba.

1) A man who owned a book store in Old Havana. His shop was small, but packed from floor to ceiling with books, posters, records, and postcards. He insisted that we spoke in English, even though I tried to practice my high-school Spanish with him, and I learned that he was a former history professor at a university in Cuba.

2) While shooting on one of Havana's colorful streets, an old man approached me to ask where I was from (we were very obvious tourists). We met somewhere in the middle of broken English and Spanish and I learned that he actually lived in New York for a time until he got sent back to Cuba after fighting a man who was attacking a woman on the train.

3) Our butler, Mario. I hate calling him a butler because he honestly felt like more of a Dad while we were there. He told me that prior to looking after this AirBnb, he was at another home for 25 years, but that this one had a pool he'd sneak a swim in when it wasn't occupied.

Thinking about these men, and really everyone I encountered in Cuba, gave me a feeling of this word that isn't really a word but more of a feeling—sonder.


n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This was my favorite part of Cuba, and I took it home with me. A lot of my worst days are spent feeling dissatisfied with where I am and who I am. The fact that I am growing, that things are still happening, that I still have whole lives left to live often takes a back seat to my less than perfect present. God willing, I will live to be a 100-year-old woman with a million chapters in my book (some okay ones and some fabulous ones), and meeting these men, and really just experiencing all the people of Cuba, reminded me of this.

I get it from my momma

When you you're young and you hurt yourself, maybe with a skin of the knee or a bump of the head, your first reaction is to cry and reach for some source of comfort. For most of us, that was mommy. It was for me. Even when she wasn't around, I still knew she would have been a far better solution than a flimsy Band-Aid. As I got older, the ways I got hurt changed. Boo-boos turned into financial emergencies, missed career opportunities, and broken hearts—the kinds of things you don't necessarily want to run to mommy for.

"While there, I thought of how much I loved her, how happy I was she was even here for me to lean on, and then finally, her strength. And that was it."

This past weekend my mom came to New York and I was lucky to have her here for Mother's Day. Her visit also coincided with one of my strangest weekends in recent memory. I had a series of days that were a roller coaster ride of excitement followed by a crash of confusion, followed by a gray bout of sadness. Y'all, it was weird. I was covered by this cloud of feelings even as I pulled myself out of bed to get dressed for our Mother's Day date night.

At the banquet hall, in a room full of exquisitely dressed caribbean mothers laughing loudly, swaying in their seats to reggae and soca, I sat next to my mom, feeling entirely out of place. I wanted to talk to her about my weekend, but there was nothing I felt like I could share with her. Not knowing what words to say to ask for help, I laid my head on her shoulder instead. The childhood familiarity was comforting. While there, I thought of how much I loved her, how happy I was she was even here for me to lean on, and then finally, her strength.

And that was it. I saw myself moping about because of one weekend, a span of 48 hours, less even,  knowing full and well my mom has endured months and years of tough(er) times. I still had no clearer understanding of what had happened, but I knew then that it didn't have to matter. I have seen my mom go through some of the life's most unfortunate situations and come out at the other end still standing. Until I found my own, I let my mom's silent strength bolster me. I didn't feel comfortable enough to spill everything weighing on my mind, but her presence, the knowledge of her life, was sufficient a fix for me.

Okay, we're doing this, y'all

Alright, no pussyfooting around—I'm talking about sex. Specifically why it's been shelved until further notice. Our foremothers fought for us to be loud-mouthed, free-thinking, sexually-liberated women, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Sex has had an interesting trajectory in my life: it started off as just a normal part of my 5-year-relationship. Then, in the age of Tinder and after moving to a new city, it turned into a way to grow and find freedom after that relationship ended.

"In exchange for time, attention, decent company, affection, and a general level of care akin to what one would find in a relationship, there was sex.

Here's where it turned into an unfamiliar source of anxiety. Sex in loving relationships? Super great. Casual sex out of relationships? Totally awesome. Sex in that unsure, in-between territory? The absolute worst, and I've found myself here a few more times than I'd like to admit. In this annoying situationship place, sex became something to barter. In exchange for time, attention, decent company, affection, and a general level of care akin to what one would find in a relationship, there was sex. But you know what there never was? An actual relationship. 

When I realized that this was what I was doing, I wanted to slap myself. Had I really become the girl who thought that sex would equal a relationship if you liked each other enough? Let me tell you this: someone can "like" you all they want. They can answer your text messages back more frequently than the other people you're flirting with. Hell, they can even tag you in funny memes so you know they're thinking of you in some small way. But if they do not want a relationship—and listen to me good now—they do not want a relationship. Full stop.

After that beautiful wake up call, I decided I didn't want to have sex for a while. Then, my desire for human contact came back with a vengeance and I decided it was best to have someone around for sex and nothing more. I did not want to know bands he liked, what the last thing to make him cry was, or what his childhood was like. I just wanted to know if he'd be there at 11 PM when I texted. This worked for a bit, but I soon accepted that I just didn't like using people, even if to some degree they were using me too.

So with much deliberation and after asking all of my most trusted ladyfriends, I decided to temporarily close the door on sex and open the door to other options—a good old fashioned, super cute, super tiny and very pink vibrator. If I'm being honest, I'm still a little shocked that I even have one in my possession, but I try not to think of myself as "the girl with the sex toy" (though there is nothing wrong with that—no sex shaming on my watch). I see myself as more of a person who just doesn't want to muddy her life by using people for sex, or worse, using sex in the hopes of getting close to someone.

Who knew it would all be this difficult? They didn't teach me this shit in health and sex-ed, that's for sure. Since it helped me to talk to my friends and listen to sex health experts, I'm going to drop some of my favorite sources for you guys and gals wanting to know a bit more.

Sexy Time Sources for My Girls 

Nox Shop, lifestyle boutique for your sex life — use code LOVELULU for 10% off

Shan Boodram, sexologist, author

Ev'Yan Whitney, sexuality doula, sex educator 

We Will Teach Our Daughters About the Sacredness of Female Sexuality,  Cat Lantigua's latest piece

Not an open wound, just open 

You find out a lot about yourself after your first real heartbreak. I learned so much about myself that I hardly can recall who I was before it happened. In the almost 4 years since, I find myself sort of like a new friend. I live in a different city, I've met all sorts of people, I have a career, and I'm still learning more. One of the things I've discovered about my new friend (lol, me) is something I didn't have words for until I rediscovered this poem by Nayyirah Waheed: I am a brutally soft woman. That's it. One affecting line.

Reading those words put together a puzzle of old tears, regret, worries, and turned it into something that made sense. Post-heartbreak, I've felt too much. My anger made me feel like I needed to be a cold, detached skeptic, but I could not be those things no matter how hard I tried (and I did try). Instead, I was made soft. Once I saw how hard things could get for us out here in the world, all I wanted was to be a more compassionate person. I wanted to be the good I needed, and I thought that in doing this, I would attract the same.

"There was no world where he and I could exist together because he saw my softness as an opportunity, and not as a freedom to soften himself."

But that's not how it happened. I didn't realize that softness was something to make a joke out of, and worse, to be taken advantage of.  I tried to love a man who, by mocking my softness and learning to play with it, created a bitter woman out of me. His presence alone immediately put me on edge, and I never understood why. I thought something was wrong with me, but my intuition or some deeper knowledge had just caught on before I did: there was no world where he and I could exist together because he saw my softness as an opportunity, and not as a freedom to soften himself.

I will not crumble if pushed, I will not break if disappointed. I am no one's sad, heartbroken girl, but I refuse to harden. I will not play the "who-can-act-like-they-care less" game. It's a shitty game that stops people from actually making any real connection. I am not made to be hard, and I won't spend any more of my life around people who cause me to put up armor. I don't want to protect myself—I want to be around people who I don't need protection from. I like myself soft and exposed.

Let's Talk About It, Shall We?

In the midst of a world changing right before our eyes and trying to master each and every one of our life goals, it seems silly to think that whenever my friends and I meet up we end up in a long "love iz lame" or "ugh, boyz suck" conversation. All one person has to do is complain about a their last date or a misconstrued text, and the night becomes a full-on Iyanla Fix My Life therapy session.

We talk about work, we talk about our goals, we talk about our self-image, but something about love always strikes a chord, and I don't know why that is. Could the old song be right? Is love what makes the world go 'round? What I do know is that it's taken me a long time to say this out loud. Greater than my fear of not understanding everything about love is my fear of admitting I want to know. I feel like I've been whispering this my whole life, but fine, I'll shout it: I want to know what the hell is the deal with love.

"Greater than my fear of not understanding everything about love is my fear of admitting I want to know."

I don't care if it makes me look silly, like a 12-year-old girl obsessed with fairytales. Why is that even a thing I have to be worried about? Why is an interest in love seen as inherently female, and even further, why then does that make it something not to be valued? I am an accomplished adult woman who plans to continue knocking down every single one of my goals—oh, and also, I want to talk about tingly butterfly feelings and whether or not they mean anything.

Love has come up too many times in my life (especially in the past 4 years), and I can't not stare it down and ask it why it keeps knocking at my door. If you're one of my longtime Internet girlfriends you know that I'm very much an over sharer. In between my thoughts on wide-leg jeans and matte lipstick, you'll find real life sh*t sprinkled in, because, well, I'm a real person. I promise, I still have many thoughts on matte lipstick, but for right now I'm going to rely on my good sis Rihanna and admit—it must be love on the brain.

This week is LOVE WEEK on I'll be talking about love, relationships, self-worth, and omg, sex. Stay tuned, bbs!

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