Ask Athena: Own It

Fumbling forward into uncharted domains with grace, joy, and honesty.


Q: I recently reconnected with an old boyfriend after more than a decade apart, but the old sparks are still there! How do I know, though, if the old patterns aren’t there as well? Especially the hurtful ones that ruined us before. I don’t want to go back, but it’d be great to try again and move forward. How can I make this happen?

A: It’s been ten years, a lot has changed. Hopefully, you’ve both matured. Now that you are older and wiser, you can look more objectively at your own behavior. Why exactly did you break up? How did you contribute to the end of your relationship? Have you changed — and has he?

Often, too, our behavior is only part of the story. Other things like age differences, career choices, income disparity, and the social demands of early adulthood can cause untenable tensions between two people who might actually be great for each other under different circumstances. Make sure you have a conversation about why — after all you know about each other — it’s right to try again.

Don’t expect everything’s going to be perfect this time, either. Being older, your lives are more complicated now and that’ll be an adjustment. Be careful not to let old drama into your new connection. That was then, this is now. Keep your expectations realistic, and communication lines wide open. If old habits crop up, call them out and think through solutions together.

One thing you don’t want to do is waste your time obsessing over what can go wrong. Enjoy your time together. There’s an old wives tale that the body renews itself every seven years — well then, think of yourselves as brand new beings if it helps. Embrace the uncharted territory before you, and open your heart to all possibilities.  Good luck!!


Q: I love exploring and celebrating different cultures, and often attend local festivals where I stand out like a big white thumb. Most people are very welcoming, but sometimes I get the feeling that my interest is seen as suspect or offensive somehow. Sadly, I have made vendors quite angry simply by admiring their lovely art and fashion. What am I doing wrong? What’s the best way to engage respectfully at cultural events? I want to appreciate, not appropriate – but how does that even work?

A: If someone holds themselves out to the public as a vendor, they will get all sorts of customers. They will like some of them more than others. Let’s start small. Since the event is a festival, this will likely be your first and last interaction so it’s a great opportunity to practice.

First, some self-reflection. If I’m hearing you correctly, it sounds like you have positive intentions for more racial integration in your life. Attending cultural festivals is a great way to do this, and it’s good you’re picking up on social cues — that’s how we learn, right? And now you’re aware that you might be doing something wrong, but what could that be?

Are vendors getting angry at your comments? Without knowing what you said, it’s hard to tell you how you’re being offensive but as a general rule it’s best to apologize and move on in these situations, eg; “Sorry, that came out wrong, I did not mean to upset you.” You could try asking them to explain their reaction, but if a person’s mad they’re not usually thrilled to justify their actions. Besides, they’re vendors, not DEI counselors.

Most people who come out for cultural festivals are there to celebrate, but in today’s climate of racial divisions it’s not always possible to create a space where everyone feels safe and welcome. Unfortunately, as a self-identifying “big white thumb,” you’re going to encounter situations where your presence triggers discomfort and that’s OK. There are dozens of cultural events, festivals, and exhibitions in the City every week, don’t let a few sour experiences spoil your fun. Ups and downs are all part of the journey.

And so is a little homework. Google “white allies” or “antiracism”  or “how to talk about race” for educational articles and videos on how to talk, share, and actively engage people across color lines. There’s a ton of information out there, you’re bound to find something that speaks to your particular circumstances. Meanwhile, I’d like to suggest one more practical consideration for interactions with any future vendors (especially ones that don’t look like you).

Try not to ask merchants about their items just for curiosity’s sake. Remember, they’re trying to sell stuff! While many vendors are happy to chat about their goods, they’re not paid storytellers, cultural advisors, or historic educators. I’m not saying that all small talk should be completely transactional, but be aware that time is money. If you’re not buying, then you’re a distraction — so don’t overstay your welcome. Obviously I can’t say this is what you’re doing wrong but it’s a common faux pas for over-eager shoppers to expect a community vendor will take them on a free cultural tour.

The bottom line here is that part of the joy of cultural appreciation is learning new stories and perspectives. To be sincere in your quest is to be vulnerable sometimes, and to make mistakes. Be open to this! Make an effort to find your particular blind spots and work on them. If along the way, someone reacts with hostility to your genuine interest, then let them be angry — that’s their choice. Keep on growing and discovering your world. 🙌🌎💕

AGREE? DISAGREE? Please leave your remarks below in the Comments.

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Read the last Ask Athena here.

About Athena 45 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

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