Meet the inclusive, femme-centric collective intent on healing your broken heart.
By Nada Alic
OK, so I’m not an art historian but I’m gonna go ahead and guess that the first artwork ever created was probably created by someone who was going through a breakup. The heart-wrenching shittiness of heartbreak has long-inspired some of the greatest works of art. I remember when I first came across Sophie Calle’s Take Care Of Yourself: a crowdsourced collection of 107 artistic interpretations of a break-up email she got, it was so revelatory to me. Something about a community of women coming together to create a collective homage to lost love (and kind of a giant Fuck You) made me realize I wasn’t resigned to a lifetime of refreshing my ex’s tagged photos on Instagram, instead I could actually make something out of my pain.
Thanks to spaces like Instagram, countless communities of women producing art, exchanging ideas and offering a safe, supportive platform to create art through pain have emerged. It’s Not Personal is one of those spaces, run by Brooklyn-based Sara Radin and Vanessa Gattinella, it’s a an inclusive, femme-centric dating collective based on Instagram, Facebook and IRL workshops along with a monthly column with BUST Magazine. The goal of the project is to “challenge the rituals of today’s modern romance and create safe, judgment free spaces for women/womxn to share their dating experiences using the healing tools of art and writing.” I talked to Sara and Vanessa about It’s Not Personal and got some sage wisdom on understanding the Rubik’s Cube that is dating in 2017.
How did It’s Not Personal come about?
SR: It all started back in January 2016, when I wrote a poem about a short lived romance, and in-person break up. Writing through that experience allowed me to come to a place of acceptance and gratitude, within just a few hours of the break up. It was so cathartic that I ended up writing 10 pages of poems about all the guys I had previously dated. It was crazy fun! I sent them over to Vanessa, who also writes poetry, and the rest is history. From there, we decided to launch a platform that would give other women the opportunity to create things inspired by their love lives.
A lot of common themes pop up in your posts that a lot of women can relate with in terms of modern dating, ghosting being a big (kind of new?) phenomenon perpetuated by dating apps, what’s the best way for a woman to address or respond to being “ghosted”? Is there a way?
VG: Personally, I’m all about honesty and calling people out on rude behavior. I want people to know when they’re treating others badly and not let them get away with it, because how else will change come about? But the older I get and the more wisdom I gain, I realize that sometimes silence is more powerful than words. So perhaps the best move could be somewhere in between — perhaps a short text or email that calmly expresses your feelings in a sentence or two, and that’s it — you close the book. And if someone ghosts, that says more about them than about you. That’s not someone who I’d like to build any kind of relationship with. Rupi Kaur wrote this line of poetry, “How someone leaves tells you everything.”
Being a woman has always felt like a paradox; you want to be respected and equal, but at the same time, you know that posting hot photos of yourself online can get you a lot of attention and helps with online dating. How do we reconcile those two things?
VG: I think you can approach these two things separately. As women (or any human), we should go into dating situations automatically commanding and expecting respect. Respect should be default and should have nothing to do with whether or not I post photos of my butt.
Separately, do whatever makes you happy and feel good about yourself. But do it for you–not for the eyes of a prospective lover or for the number of likes you get on Instagram. It’s a hard line to walk and I’ll admit that my heart skips a beat when I see that a photo I posted on Instagram gets more than 20 “hearts.” But validation that comes from within is the only kind of validation that matters.
You cover a lot in terms of heartbreak and healing, what’s your best advice for someone who is going through a bad breakup?
VG: I went through a horrible break-up four years ago. I was living with my boyfriend of many years and thought we’d be together forever until he walked out one day with little warning. Suddenly, I was in a city where I didn’t know many people; I had to find a new apartment and had to reconcile that this terrible thing happened to me and I had no control over it. It was an awful time and I think I’ve mentally blocked out most of that summer.
I always tell people now that it was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. I’ve never felt so loved. Different things work for different people, but from my experience, I would suggest letting people know you’re hurting and you need help. If a casual acquaintance says, “Call me if you need to talk,” then call them. People are terrible, but people are wonderful, too, and they want to listen and help you get through this. Say yes to as many things as possible. Stay open and get out of your comfort zone. And if you’re not able to be active, there are some amazing places online (like us!) to find and grow a network. As best as you can, build a community. I have learned that my friendships are the most precious things in the world, and I am endlessly grateful.
And most importantly, be kind and have hope. You are so much stronger than you think you are.
This new era of dating can sometimes feel like a minefield of ambiguity, recklessness, confusion and pain, how do women navigate this strange new world while still keeping their heart open and intact?
SR and VG: Disclaimer: Though we’re not relationship experts, we do know a thing or two about dating thanks to our own experiences and our community, which has shared some funny, some terrible, and some incredible dating stories with us. One thing we try to champion when it comes to dating is to know what you stand for, and to exercise strong boundaries: get to know someone for who they really are before you fully let them into your heart and life. It’s important to constantly check in with yourself, to be more conscious of how you feel every step of the way and to speak up for what you need. Not only that, we’ve also learned how valuable it is to be alone and see yourself as an independent female first and foremost, regardless of your relationship status. Our favorite slogan of all time: YOU ARE ENOUGH.
When dealing with subjects like romance and sexuality, how do you maintain inclusivity and make sure you’re not alienating anyone?
SR and VG: When we first started this project, the language we used online and offline tended to be very heteronormative. As the project has grown, we’re learning how to be more in check with our privilege as straight, cisgender, white women. We’re actively working to ensure that this project doesn’t devalue the voices of those who don’t have the same backgrounds as us, but instead, amplifies them and gives them a space to be heard. We are actively talking to and working with members of our community to ensure this is an inclusive platform that elevates the voices of not just women, but womxn. We want this project to be for everyone. We’re not perfect, and though we may mistakes, we welcome feedback and remain open to constructive criticism. We’re listening, and we want to do better.
“You are so much stronger than you think you are.”
Speaking of, can you talk a little bit about your sex workshop Dirty Talk: Getting What You Want Out Of Sex? How do we gain the confidence to ask for what we want? How do we even go about knowing what it is that we want?
SR and VG: We had such a blast planning this event and learned so much from the women who spoke on our panel as well as those who attended. It was the first time we did a purely sex-focused event and it won’t be the last time; there is so much to cover and explore. A major thing we talked about was how important it is to check in with yourself when getting intimate with someone. Make sure you’re choosing to engage in a sexual act with someone who values and respects you –inside and outside of the bedroom.
Good sex takes practice and that’s ok. It’s a learning experience and a conversation between two (or more!) bodies. Asking for what you want can be scary, but a worthy partner will be open to having what might be an awkward conversation. Masturbation is helpful for figuring out what you like and what you don’t like. Plus, there are some great sex-positive, feminist resources out there today, like MATH Magazine, Bellesa, and tabu (an app).
“Masturbation is helpful for figuring out what you like and what you don’t like.”
I love that a lot of your post speak to creating good art out of pain, I think it’s essential to processing. What are some of your favorite submissions that were born out of heartbreak?
A few submissions immediately come to mind: one of our contributors, Roxy Hearn, once had a one night stand and woke up to find that the person she slept with had disappeared, and stolen all of her panties. She made a really nice analogy between buying all new underwear as a way to re-invent herself following a recent breakup. Our friend Fernanda Sanovicz created a comic-like illustration to go with the story, that worked really well with the written piece. Check it out here. Another one that comes to mind was by Laurel Johanson, who wrote about her first sexual encounter and the emotions that come along with that. We paired her writing with a collage by Olivia Jane Huffman, whose art attempts to expose misogynistic fantasies that are embedded in accepted behavioral norms and print media like porn. You can find that one here. We’ve also had the pleasure of working with so many amazing artists such as Jillian Evelyn (she helped us launch the project by supplying countless illustrations!), and Julia Jeanguenat (she designed our current logo!), and Zoie Harmon, just to name a few.
“One of our contributors, Roxy Hearn, once had a one night stand and woke up to find that the person she slept with had disappeared, and stolen all of her panties.”
Can you speak a little bit to the community aspect (both online and offline) that you’re cultivating through the account and through the IRL workshops and events?
SR and VG: Our project has a lot of layers to it. Online, we use our Facebook group to share dating-related articles and engage our community in productive and empowering discussions. On Instagram, we do the same thing but using visual imagery. We use both platforms to share work by our contributors whenever possible. Then we have our monthly column with BUST Magazine, which has helped us spread the word about the project while giving our contributors a chance to publish their work on a major platform. Many of our contributors have never had their work published before, and we love helping them have that opportunity.
Offline, we organize a range of workshops and events. Mainly that’s at the community center New Women Space in Brooklyn, but we’ve also hosted events in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, London, and most recently a contributor hosted a workshop on our behalf in Warsaw, Poland. Some of our past events include: an oral storytelling and dating workshop with Vanessa Valerio of the Singleling podcast, a watercolor manifestation workshop with jewelry designer Susan Alexandra, and a panel on how to get what you want out of sex with Christine Long of What’s In Your Box, Monica Parikh of School of Love, sex therapist Myisha Battle and Amanda Madden of Collective Sex. A few weeks ago, we hosted the LADIES Zine Fest at Dusty Rose Vintage, which brought together 14 different groups in an event celebrating female artists, writers, and creatives. These events allow us to partner with other inspiring creatives, and bring our project to life by exploring different topics using diverse mediums.
What’s next for It’s Not Personal? How do you see the collective evolving?
SR and VG: We have more exciting events in the works, are building an online platform where we can share more work by our contributors, and hope to execute a weekend long festival for early 2018. One day, we hope to publish a book of the work we’ve received that will act as a collective, international testament of what it means to be a female dating today. We’d also love to make some videos to further bring our project to life! It’s Not Personal has grown really organically, in some unexpected and awesome ways, and we’ve grown a great deal with it. We’re excited to see where it takes us next.
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