For as long as I can remember, my ideal love life and eventual life partner looked like the portrait of that generic African family that our mothers proudly displayed in our living rooms growing up. You know, those pictures that we thought were our aunts and uncles only to find out many years later that every one of our friends also had the same pictures in their living rooms.
Although I grew up not wanting to marry, I aspired towards the idea of an eventual life partner that would be my Black king; my knight in shining armor; the man holding up our daughter or son in an oil-based portrait. The painting would hang symmetrically over our lovely spacious home that was near the city, but not right in the city––maybe somewhere where we could have a garden or an orchard.
And so I spent most of my late teens and early twenties trying and trying to make my relationships work. I would leave one relationship and jump into another by the end of the week or month; I was a serial dater. Every time something ended I refused to believe that that was the end of love. Every time I came out of an abusive relationship or any other relationship where I got rejected, I would get up, dust myself off, and continue my search for another man to complete my family portrait. I continuously made myself believe that one rotten egg didn’t mean they were all rotten and that maybe the next one might not be as spoiled.
I learned a lot of lessons during my years of floating in and out of relationships. I learned so many lessons that I even created a mini book of rules in my head. One of the things I learned in my first ever relationship was silence. I learned to be quiet in the presence of my partner, his friends and even in arguments. I think this was initially a lesson taught to me by my mother and aunts. I also learned how to dumb myself down, to pretend I did not know the things I knew just so I could allow my “man” to feel empowered, to be the all-knowing, knowledge giver in the relationship.
In other relationships, I learned to be supportive of my partner’s dreams and aspirations. Although I knew they were not the kind of dreams that would work out, (mostly because they did not put in the proper amount of effort) I still supported them. My support sometimes came in the form of money, but it also came in the form of things like, helping them to apply for jobs, writing their CV’s, and little things that they could have done on their own but didn’t. For me, it became easier to do these things for them as opposed to having to fight about their lack of motivation.
I taught myself the art of not owning people. I came to convince myself that people did not belong to people, they belonged to themselves, and as a result, they would do whatever suits them. With this logic in mind, I came to accept cheating and dishonest men. I told myself that they did not belong to me in the first place, they were independent beings that could do whatever suited them. So when my men strayed, I always told them, I understood and was okay with it so long as they came back home to me. I learned how to not ask too many questions or ask questions whose answers I was not prepared to handle. I decided to content myself with the parts of people that they provided me with.
Eventually, something snapped. I woke up one morning and just threw the relationship I was in away. I was so angry, initially at the man, but hours later I realized I was angry at myself as well, mostly at myself to be honest. I realized that all these years I had been consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) letting the men in my life treat me less than I deserved to be treated.
I had spent all these years having my men’s backs, supporting them when they were at their lowest, helping them hold their heads up, dumbing myself down, taking in their violent, abusive, misogynist, and sexist ways just so they could feel like kings in the imaginary home I had built in my head.
I became the difficult, hard to love Black woman, the stubborn Black woman, the strong Black woman, the Black woman with an axe to grind with men. I became the woman that would never find a man to love her and will probably end up thirty and alone with my cats; which considering all my experiences with men sounds like a blissful way to live life.
It is interesting how when a woman decides to live for herself, continuously chooses herself, knows what she wants and demands to be treated in the ways in which she deserves, she is seen as an obstacle to society and its way of life. There is only so much of yourself to give, there is only so much and so often that you can give yourself away and if this is not reciprocated or taken advantage of, then it is not worth it.
I will admit that I have not given up on my picture portrait family yet, but I am no longer the woman I used to be in relationships.
Featured Image: Bria Benjamin, prints available at Society6