TW: struggle love, pain before love, toxic patriarchy
This week, the entire internet is a blaze over Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk. I did my best to stay away from this because I think this is a conversation is overdue. I also am aware of the cultural implications of this conversation. I knew that the moment I, as a divorced Black woman with two children from a failed marriage, all the hounds of Hotepean Hell would come after me. But yet. this is what I do here. I speak. This will be no different.
I know women like Tameka Dianne “Tiny” Harris. I have been a woman like Tameka Dianne “Tiny” Harris. Everyday I am graced to walk towards 40, the more perceptive I have become. I see the things at 38, that I could never have seen at 18 or even 28. I see life as the gift that is, and value whom I want to keep in mine. So, when I saw this Red Table Talk with Clifford and Tameka? It was like looking into a mirror.
The one thing I do like about Red Table Talk is Jada Pinkett Smith as allowed, held space to have hard conversations. However, here? With this one? I think she missed something. Too often in African American/Black communities, Black women and girls are prized and chosen, seated as wives or queens due to how much we can bare. How hard we can work. How much we can hide the depth of our pain, cover our own rage with make up, a clean house and healthy children.
This is a most curious type of auction block.
Everything that can be quantified to us as women. You must be esthetically pleasing. Tall, but not taller than him. You must be able to work as hard as a man, be satisfied with less, be able to clean house, have kids and have your breasts, your ass and belly look unaffected. Everything has to snatch back, and ready to still sate every ache in a phallus! Now, by no means am I, will I say, these attitudes are present solely in African-American homes and communities. They aren’t, I assure you. But I can attest is my personal experiences, failures and realizations. It is through those realizations, I make my case and give my empathy.
There is something in Tameka that I have seen in myself in the grip of an abusive relationship. This breaking and holding together, is done in cycles. Where you believe so much in a man, so much, that it kills you. This is not an exaggeration! My girlfriends have a name for this: struggle love.
This is the love that we idolized, and told is inevitable as a women and girl-children. This type of love, we are told, is based on this scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:7:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It is this scripture that allows women to stay after it’s time to leave!
Those of you that follow me, know that I am a women of faith. This piece is not an assail or assault on Christianity. What I want you all to see is, struggle love–this love that prizes the ability to suffer greatly first and always–is not God. And I am tired of being told, or hearing women say that it is! There is no part in scripture that prizes the inflection of pain on another person as a way to prove that you love them. When pain is found is scripture it is due to, or a part of, a process which has an end!
Suffering is not supposed to be prized! It is a tool to reach, remind and instruct! It is not a prize!
My ability to endure the insufferable doesn’t make me a prize. It makes me a mammie! My ability to be consistently uncomfortable does not quantify me as a woman to be prized above all others! Can we stop doing this? Can we free our daughters from the chains of believing someone the love has to hurt them, that life, that relationships, have to try you with volcanic fire in order for to be considered as girl friend or wife? I understand that relationships have ebb and flow; relationships are constructed of and between two people trying to make a life together. Each valuing something different or wanting something more. The idea being that what they feel for one another should be support, strength and refuge. Suffering can be a part of that due to the fallen, selfish nature of human beings. However, my ability to suffer should not be the factor that makes me a desirable partner. Do not intentionally inflict harm upon me to see how fast I will heal!
I am worthy of love, of care, and of respect. I am worthy to be seen, to be valued and cared for. I deserve a relationship that will hold me to account, assure me of my safety and grant me space to grow and to become. I am worthy to be loved; that love is not proved through how badly I can be hurt.
Through the podcast Expeditiously, Tameka said something that startled me, and confirmed one reason as to why she may stay. She said an aunt once told her to “Marry for security, not for love.” When I heard this, I almost screamed. I understand the reason why her aunt said this. I get it: men are taught to be protectors and providers. Money is a tool which allows both. Yet, with everything this man has done in the course of their relationship, can this protection and provision be so comfortable that she will endure it? Love that makes you suffer to attain it is manipulation. God loves you no matter what you do. In that relationship, love is first and love is paramount–and He is present no matter what and where you are.
Love is first. Healthy love is first!
There are things in this life which are more important than financial security. We have moved beyond the point in society where women need men for social acceptance, and financial security. Do I believe that relationships can become better, the people in them change for the better? I do. I believe people have the ability to do better, especially for the people they love. I believe that if two people are willing to make something broken work, it can. This comes from accountability, recognition of what was lost or broken. And that takes work.
Struggle love is greedy, one-sided and viciously selfish. It takes from you, and is enraged when there is no more to take; angry when the willing well is empty–having drank all from it. Struggle love is narcissistic, seeing and feeding all it wants. Even when Tameka spoke on the podcast, he cut her off. As a writer, she sounded what can only be described as ‘backed up.’ On the show, she vacillated between being over it, wishing her husband would be honest and accountable; to stoic–just letting him express himself.
When I told my first husband our relationship was over, he seemed shocked. I had done all I could do to love him, honor him, and be the dutiful wife even while he refused to be a husband to me. It is not wisdom to say in these situations. He refused all avenues which would help us fix what was wrong and he refused. But yet, he still wanted to be with me: ‘I want my family’. he said. Yet, he was unwilling to anything which would care for it. I had no more, of me to give to him, to fix the us.
I had no more of me, to give to him, to fix the us.
I refused to die with a man that would not build his life with me.
I have been where Tameka has been, more than once. I have seen the people in my life–men and women!–having to sit where she did on the promise of ‘it’ll get better.’ Sometimes the better is the day you decide you can do no more. God hates divorce, yes. He also provides a way of escape to things which overwhelm, threatening to kill whom He loves.
Don’t die with life still in you, believing better will come. Better sometimes, sometimes God shows up, the universe makes itself known when you listen to the inner self that tells you in the still small voice, ” I have done all I can, with all resources given and acquired. I will trust in what will come after this ends which will grant me what I deserve. This ain’t it. It cannot be it, and I must go.”
I simply must go.
In the words of my sister, the beloved Kelly Heflin, “Don’t tell me to struggle for love, and tell your daughter something different.”
[image from Facebook Watch]