At this point in my life, the women that I confide in are in two categories: Mother figures and Sisterfriends. One of my sisterfriends is the remarkable, beautiful and completely savage (she describes herself as a ‘manicured pit viper’) Kelly Heflin. I have been a part of her world–happily–due in part to my own wit, love of fashion, and the same substance I believe all women have that have gone through the loss of fathers.
And in that power, with that wit, I call her my sister. Shouts to Kellz!
With that, she never ceases to amaze me with the level of nonsense she reveals from her inbox into the waiting Facebook world. From this, I have seen my sister be called everything that could enter into the heart of a petty, jealous, acrid man. I have seen the messages that she was bold enough to share (because, Kellz–and I love she!). The thing that is so confounding about this, is their reaction to her reaction to not wanting to be treated as anything less than what she was taught she was! Her answer to that, which is my echo, “If you wouldn’t let your daughter settle for it, why would you want me to?”
I agree, Sis. I agree!
I should not–will not–lessen myself to the point of being gaslighted for the sake of ‘having someone.’ Why should I? Who is raising these men-impostors?! Who started this lie that in order to have the woman you want you have to break her like a wild mare? Why is a woman to be broken, to be made whole to and for a man? Let me give you some Bible, because the I know the Hoteps are trying to formulate a way to ‘check’ me.
Note: I write and sign checks; I am never to be checked.
Or, as my ex-husband said: “You can’t handle when a man like me puts me in your place.” My retort, like a reflex, was “Where is my place? What is my place?”
Women are the last divine thing to look God in the face. Think about this! So, if I–like you–am a divine, sentient creature, why should I not be treated as such? If we go through Genesis, and really read it, Adam was in charge of naming all things in the Garden of Eden. And it was he that named the being that came out of him–and praised God for it. And named it. Anything you honor, you care for and name! So, if my job is to be a complement, a help, and source of support, why should have I to dim or become less in order to be suitable? Please, make this make sense.
There is a generation of women before us whom we, the women whom are those late 70s-80s babies entering into middle age, are looking at and wondering–Why was this treatment of okay? Why is my ability to endure, to soldier on, to cry in showers and in pie or cobbler filling the proof by which I am to be chosen? Now, I was taught charm and class by my mother. I know how to handle myself, and be a lady–that is second nature. My father is one who taught me game–who said to me that ‘No one can feel your brain.” Let me translate: it’s not good enough to just be smart; keep yourself up. I, at 39, and examining these conversations my sisterfriend had in a new light. They are hurtful. They are demeaning. They are gaslighting at its finest! The most outrageous one that I have ever seen was the one she shared from a man who told her–unprovoked! No one sent for this dude!–who decided to tell her that she needed to be more humble. That she just needed ‘a good man’ to ‘humble her’.
Let me say this: If you feel you have to humble a woman, in order for her to be suitable, you will never have her. As I say often, “If you have to hold her with a chaser, you don’t know how to run!” What does this mean? It means you are not ready for what it is you want–and you need it to be more palatable to be able to handle it. You just not ready, son. He told her that she was too ambitious and it is intimidating to men. I, like my sister Kelly, thought none of these words strewn together into what he believed with all his strength would make sense–do not, in fact, make sense.
This good man by which homeboy spoke of could handle and support an ambitious woman! A good man would see that the woman he wants, has a life outside of him, and is not defined by him only–and he wouldn’t want her to be! A good man would know his girl to the point she would never have to humble herself: he would make her feel safe enough to submit to his leadership (that is the key to submission: Can you make her feel safe? And care for her? Can she rest with you? But that is another conversation–isn’t it?). A good man would know how to lead, guide and protect his woman without believing he has to break her, hurt her, in order to have her.
Y’all need to check your boys…they are surely not men.
The world loves to tell Black women and girls what they can and cannot do! It loves to define Black women and girls for what they believe they should be. I am not a should-be Black girl. I am not a should-be Black woman! I own all that I have gone through, all I have done, and I want all that I dream of being!
I own me on a level I couldn’t dream of before! I suppose inching towards 40 which has settled me in a way that I didn’t think I would reach yet. Yet, in the intersection of aging, motherhood and adulthood, I find myself confronting the need to hold my own space. There is a need to protect that space, and every footstep that goes into owning that. The lie that I break daily is that I “do too much” or “it doesn’t take all that.” But, it does! It does take all that–it takes every bit of THAT which makes me Black and woman and walking through the world!
There is a different level of moxie, chutzpah and bravado to be a Black girl in a world that either wants to be you, erase you or kill you! It take every bit of your THAT to walk through the world and not be overtaken by it! What is THAT you ask? THAT can be a myriad of things, but here are the three things that I have deduced THAT is: Voice. Style. Presence.
Voice. There is a power, a magic, that Black women have. There is a natural authority and sway we have. When we open our mouths at certain points, God will come out! And in that space, from that place of authority, people who don’t want to see or hear Black women–silence us. We get removed from rooms. We get ‘rescheduled.’ We get delegated. We get told that we ‘too loud.’ We are ‘too aggressive’. And then those accusations are met with rebuttal? Oh, then we are called ‘bitches’. As if that will make the roar soften because you call me a name! No. I’m too told to be stopped by that.
Style. The poet Nikki Giovanni talks about how divine this thing called style that Black folk have. The poet herself even said, “If the Black woman wasn’t born, she would have to be invented.” There is a power in this! There is something to Black women, whom bear Black girls who, too, will become Black women have that is indicative of self-expression. In a world which is bent toward erasure of anything it considers and aberration, Black women still are noticed–we can’t help but to be noticed! From hair, our nails, make up and shoes–to how will pull ourselves together for dinners, weddings or a night out–Black women have shaped, reinvented, and owned style from the first time we discovered color. This was before chattel slavery, dear ones.
Presence. I have been a tall girl my entire life. In quoting my aunt about the state of my body, she says it this way: “All you had all your life was legs and ass!” That’s a direct quote. Now, I stand 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and about 200 lbs. With the right outfit and shoes I am over 6 feet tall–you notice when I walk in a room. My mother tells me that a lady always has presence about her. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s until I realized what that meant. Presence is owning your life, experiences and all that your body is–stretch marks, muffin top, eyeglasses–whatever. The world doesn’t know what to do with a woman they are supposed to be ignore (let’s not forget we aren’t to be lusted after!), and it wants to erase! What do you do with a woman that you can’t help but see?
So yes, dear ones, it takes all of THAT. This life takes you owning your space. Amplifying your voice. It takes knowing who you are, and having your life not be defined by what other people can look or conceptualize you as! You make the boxes and draw outside of them!
Never let the world which can only take you in sips demand you give them a chaser! No! You have every right to be in this world–so be in it. Be. In. It.
We as people–especially girls–have been taught that to be in love is to suffer. It is to be in pain, and then your prince or king will come. In dismantling this facade that Struggle Love gives, you have to replace and supplant what we have been taught. We do that by pulling this thread: What does healthy love look like?
Healthy love does not mean enduring to the end of something. Love is a journey, it is healing, it a source of hope! Healthy love looks like boundaries, accepting limitations and realizing what you deserve! The broken record that begins with “You have to endure until it gets better,” or “A man just gon be a man,” or “This is as good as it will ever get,” has to be broken!
I believe this teaching begins to be supplanted when we as partners or potential partners decide what we want. And what we want has be definite and defined by what we want, and will not accept! We must have a criteria, and the criteria cannot be shaken for the want of being chosen!
Struggle Love has its roots in trying to be chose!
We begin to believe that love is to be worked for, suffered to get, and worked (often one-sided) to maintain. This is not so! Healthy love, giving healthy love, starts with you, dear one. It starts with who you model yourself after! What relationships you see around you, and what you aspire to become!
I know that not everyone sees these healthy examples around them. I get that people believe abuse is love–because it’s all they know! I know people see relationships every day that seem toxic that somehow magically become healthy overnight. I assure it, it doesn’t happen overnight.
It never happens overnight.
The Bible tells us the older women are supposed to teach the younger women. You have to understand, what I am still learning, there is a portion of my experience a younger woman might need. Even if she may need it so she knows what not to do! We as the older women must be guideposts–for our sons and daughters! We have to give them what they need–regardless of our shame!
It is our shame at this generation of children need in order to realize what love is, what love is not, and what it should never turn into! Let us normalize the word “no.” Let us normalize what manhood looks like, and men having emotions! Normalize the intuition of women: the ‘something told me‘ is your first alert system! Normalize the acceptance of something when it can no longer be repaired! Normalize peace and being alone over the desire to be chosen–by people thieves wouldn’t trust.
Normalize respect for one another.
Normalize honor–without the need to test the boundaries of it.
Normalize being together–without testing the boundaries of what it means to be together.
Normalize what it means to be in love, and give that love back.
Normalize expressing counseling, and building save spaces in your relationships.
Normalize knowing what you want–and walking away from what you don’t. Anything you have to fight to get, you will have to fight to keep. Question is what are you willing to give of yourself to keep something that might kill you?
As writer, sometimes the best fodder for your imagination are the things you have gone through. Nothing could be more accurate than what my own life is at present.
With me facing a second divorce in 7 years, I had to reckon with this concept and construct of my ‘married name’. The only thing I could do to combat is this confusion was to write it out.
Indeed, this is a personal work and I am in the cycle of grief about the demise of this relationship—and owning my part in its demise! What I have had to reconcile with this idea of having the name of a man whom I no longer have/desire any attachment to.
This chap book is available on Amazon, and I hope that it helps illuminate just how complex being 1 then 2, and back to 1 again can be.
“So many people want a wedding but no one wants to be married.”
My parents, had my father lived, would have been together 45 years this year. By the time he died, they had been together about 20, 25 years. When I think of all the things they had experienced in that time, I am overcome. I cannot help but think how my mother managed to hold herself together in the midst of what she needed to do, on top of whatever my father and her got into. It is the backdrop of their love affair, that I try to find a map and a light to all of this here.
From my mother’s recollection, she and my father met in the late 1970’s, like 1975 or so. I was born in 1981, and 2 siblings followed. In their 20-some year relationship, I had seen my mother cry over fights they had. I saw her tend to us, her extended family, and work. Somehow in there, she completed her BSN.
I still really don’t know how–until I became a working mother trying to go to school. Yet, that is another matter…
What I saw, and what I know is–my father loved my mother. He loved her with all his might! He, and how my father loved my mother, gave me the blueprint on what to expect from a man that said he loved me:
I expected to be treated well.
I expected to be valued.
I expected to be cared for.
I also expected to be heard, not ruled!
I expected to be given the respect of a difference of opinion! I expected to be valued beyond by ability to cook, keep house or rattle sheets! I knew that when grown folk get together, it’s not always smooth–people are different! In relationships, we can have some similarities, yes. But we were not to be the same person. I knew relationships would have disagreements, arguments, slammed doors every now and then! I knew that there would be struggles to preserve us in the midst of the chaos in the world. But, I knew relationships weren’t supposed to be more chaotic than the world outside!
Yet, I knew this one thing: that if a man hit you, you were supposed to leave. I knew that abusive behavior and addictive behaviors were not to be tolerated. I knew those things were deal breakers. And from the template of my parents, I think I can pinpoint what it means to be in ‘struggle love’, and just how one gets to any point of accepting this.
I truly believe this idea of struggle love comes from the need to be loved. The desire to be chosen, seen to be something special. From that hunger, from that want to be loved, we (men and women) will accept anything! We say to this person–through our accepting/accommodating behavior–that the want of being chosen is more important than a real working relationship!
Let me tell you about me and mine. It was this this guy named *Darius. I met Darius when I was 19. I lost three years to this man, to this relationship. After being with this man, sleeping with this man, and having an abortion after this relationship–at 22, I was hurt. I was angry. But from this vantage point of age, I can deduce why I stayed. From that, I believe you can have some idea of how it start–and continues.
I wanted to be loved. I loved Darius. I stand 5’10” and he was 6’8″. No lie. And I felt so safe when he hugged me. In the words of Toni Morrison the sex ‘was as good as it could befrom never knowing any other before.’ I loved how I felt when I was with him! I was his girl! I had someone that wanted me! He was there, there for me, and after the loss of my father 2 years before? It was a nice escape to just go and be with him…and be his. No matter what time of day (or night) it was.
I wanted to be special. I wanted to show Darius how good of a woman I was. He was a dedicated weed smoker, and I would put money into my working budget to buy weed for him. I helped him take care of his son–that he barely saw! He disappeared on me twice–leaving no phone number or address. He didn’t work, and his life was a constant source of stress! I wanted him to see that life with me would be easier! I wanted him to see that I could hold him down, lift him up and be that superwoman I knew I could be to him.
Being with him, being in his life, was more important that tending to anything that I wanted. I was going to be with him, because I wanted what he said we were going to do together. Regardless of what that meant. We would make it through anything, if I would just be there.
FULL STOP. This is where the cycle of “I’ll take anything, because he is my everything starts.” RIGHT. HERE
I dealt with him not working. I dealt with him not acknowledging how hurt I was being pregnant and sneaking off to an abortion clinic. I dealt with having to pay or everything. I dealt with it, because he told me I was his soulmate. I dealt with it, because he said he loved me. It was because he loved me, and I felt special when we were together was enough.
I wanted it all to be real. I was in love with him. I loved him as best I could. And I wanted to hang on to him! I had given him my time, my body, my familial relationships–and lost a child. By the time it was over, when I really knew it was over was him being more concerned about how he was going to feel–rather than me crying while I was at work. At work. Let that sink in. I had worked all day (from 6 AM!, and wouldn’t be off until 8PM!) and he said, “How can I go the rest of the day like this?” I cannot even my remember what I said in response to this. But it was over…and I cried in a locker room. Before I had to go back to work.
I fought to make him pay back my time, my tears and my love with becoming the man I wanted him to be. I stayed with him 3 years. I endured this for three years. Three and a half, really. But what I really wanted was validation. I wanted the same love I gave him–to be given back to me! And it wasn’t happening. I stayed with him, because I wanted a return on my investment. He was my investment! Of all I gave him…I left with nothing of the woman I was before.
This is the price of struggle love! It costs you everything! It will convince you that to work for something that should be given to you–freely. Struggle love will always COST you something. Love is never a debt–love pays! It pays completely! I paid for this love, and was left with debt and heartbreak. I was left thinking “What is wrong with me? Why didn’t he want me?” See how crazy that is? Struggle love will have you thinking that you–the person trying to hold something together–is the problem. If you would just do something else better, sexier or faster, it would be better. Struggle love is gaslighting!
The bad thing is, once you see this happening–once you know what it is–it is often too late to redeem what you invested.
Guard your hearts, dear ones. Guard them from the world that wants to break them–or the wolves that will eat them.
This pieces is significantly older, and from 2007-2008. It’s actually a favorite. And I’m sure y’all willalso. -JBHarris
It had begun to storm.
I tried to keep my eyes closed, and the smile from spreading too far across my face. I rolled over, not surprised that he wasn’t there. There was so much on his mind lately. I called him name, almost as a reflex, waiting quietly for the echo from the hallway. He made a noise and came to the doorway of his bedroom. This was still his house after all…I could claim nothing in it as mine or ours.
He stood in the doorway, flushed and shirtless, smiling at me. I tousled my hair as I slowly sat up, wrapping the sheet around me. I grinned inwardly, I had no need to be modest, he has already seen all that I had and am. “Cleaning it?” I said, gesturing to his trombone and the rag in his hand. Clad only in dark blue boxers, he grinned at me boyishly. I lived for that grin. He walked over to me, the dim lamp upon the dresser being washing him in this pure bronze aura. He sat next to me, cupped my face, and kissed me. All of me that was female wanted him all the more. Yet, I knew I had no claim, no tie to him, and thought it rather foolish to have one so soon. He held me then, his natural scent comforting me. “I don’t want to leave. I hate leaving.” He kissed my forehead as if to scare away all the bad things I was thinking. He put a finger under my chin, and kissed me again. “For as long as I am here, and you want me, I will be here.” I wanted to cry. It had been so long since I had felt anything. I was more interested in savoring it, than deciphering it. “Close your eyes.” He told me. I obeyed, as I heard him shuffle around his small room. Then I heard it, my favorite song by Norah Jones. I told him never to play it, because it evoked so many memories and emotions.
I heard him walk over to me again, placing something on my shoulder. “Open your eyes.” He whispered. I smiled, putting on this shirt. Standing not even five feet from me, eyes as warm as the sea, he stretched his hand out to me.I reluctantly climbed out of bed, and moved to his embrace. He held me so close, as if I were meant to fit. I slipped my arms around his neck, kissed him as we swayed. He whispered in my ear part of the verse: “I’ll need no soft lights, to enchant me, if you would only grant me, the right—to hold you ever, so tight—and to feel in the night, the nearness of you.” I put my ear to his chest and remembered what it was like to feel and be special to be cherished, to let the world and its inhabitants be damned. To take a deep breath, and inhale him, and know I’d rather be nowhere else.