He Should Do Something About That: Who Pays the Price for Love and Loving?

One day I decided to go to one of my favorite local clubs to hear some live music. While there I ran into a man that I know socially.  After we said our hellos and started a conversation he commented to me that he had seen my most recent ex-partner out at another social event. His comment was “He is such an a*shole.” It was not a comment that I was expecting to hear. Nevertheless, in response to it I said, “Yes, he is an a*shole, but underneath it all he is a very loving and lovable person.” Then, in reply to that, this acquaintance said to me, “Well, he should do something about that.”

It has probably been at least six months since I had that conversation but his comments, particularly the latter part, have really stuck with me. Yes, there was something very powerful about hearing from another man that the man I chose to be with was indeed “an a*shole,” but more than that it was his followup comment – “he should do something about that” – that left me with something to think about. Actually, truth be told, it was that part of the conversation that has helped to keep me accountable to myself and to the decision that I made to walk away and to stay away.

There is nothing more disappointing than finding out that the person you love has some very troubling and disturbing character flaws. When it comes to relationships and dating, we have heard people say that people present the person they want you to see, or, they present their “representative.” Of course, it is true that many people play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a lot. In my dating experiences, this is behavior that I see frequently from heterosexual men. To get your attention they are on their best behavior, but once a reasonable amount of time goes by, “the real them” comes out. Of course, you have your share of charlatans out there, but there are times when I don’t think it is an intentional presentation of a fake self; it is just that most people will go out of their way, at first, to present themselves in the best possible light. Eventually, however, who they are behind close doors and thus, in the dark, will also come to the light. Jill Scott says, “everything comes to light.” I don’t really think that everyone deliberately hides (although some do), it is just that after awhile the pleasantries wear off. Or, as they say, the honeymoon can’t last forever.

The most affirming thing that I took away from what my social acquaintance said was this: that I was not responsible for changing or helping my ex. His behavior (in public and private) is just that: his. In the course of our relationship, one that lasted about a year and a half, I put up with a lot of very bad behavior from him. In the beginning, there were times when he admitted his flaws and faults, and I admitted mine. So, initially, I forgave and I overlooked much of what he did even when what he did hurt me and our relationship (and I forgave the stuff that I did too!). I thought he wanted to change for himself, to his own benefit. And, I wanted to believe that he was willing and able to make the necessary changes for himself. Of course, I was very willing to change and do whatever I could to get to a much better us. But, in spite of his apologies and promises to “never do it again,” he always did it again, consequently, I grew less tolerant of the hurtful things that he did and I began to push back verbally on them, a lot.

It is when I pushed back, when it was clear that I would not tolerate his bad behavior in silence and complicity any longer, that we had the greatest trouble That is when he was the angriest and most hostile towards me; when I stood up  for myself. Looking back, I believe that he expected me to accept him without question, and without insisting that he change his abusive ways.

Finally, in response to me standing up for myself, he made it clear, point-blank, that he was not going to change, which led me to believe that in previous relationships other women may have asked or pleaded with him to change. It would probably surprise him, but I actually do believe that he is able and capable of changing, and doing just about anything that he puts his mind to, but, he has been articulating bad, abusive behavior towards black women for most of his life, mostly in response to the abusive things that happened to him as a child at home from his emotionally and physically abusive mother. I did not realize the depth of his resentments towards black women, especially to his mother who is now dead, until I was well into the relationship with him, when the going got very emotionally tough and exhausting. I suppose, with him, this is why his relationships have always seemed lovely in the beginning, but then disastrous in the long-run. Abuse has a cycle and he was (and currently I suppose he is) not willing to do his part to address the pain and trauma of his own past, therefore, in relationships, he “cycles through” or reenacts and relives his own abuse. This he did with me and he did this with other women before me. Our relationship ended the way it began: in abandonment. When we met he was seeing other women, but he abandoned them to be with me. Similarly, when our relationship came to a final stop, although there were many stops, he just stopped communicating. He never explained, he just ran away and hid behind his phone and his cars, and anything else that would keep him from seeing me or being seen by me. It was the most abusive relationship that I had ever encountered (as I have learned from bell hooks, that “all abuse is abandonment”).

Without conscious changes on his part, he will do this to the women in his future. And that is very sad. But, as the saying goes, “you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.” Some of the new women in his life will know better than to tolerate his abusiveness, and, hopefully, they will not choose to stay. But there are also many heterosexual women who participate in their own abuse, especially if abuse is all they have known (and accepted) in relationship to men. Likewise, if I remember correctly, all the serious relationships and even the marriages that my ex had in life burst open wide at the seams, and they will continue to do so as long as he refuses to do anything to change himself and his behavior, even as the opportunities for change continue to present themselves to him. Indeed, one day those opportunities will stop; most likely through violence if he does not stop the abusive cycle that sabotages his ability to stay and thrive in good, healthy relationships.

Recently, I chimed in on a Facebook conversation with younger black women about their relationships with men. My message was clear. Yes, it is good to stand with and for a man, but you cannot do for a man what he is not willing to do for himself. As other women added their comments to the thread, I emphasized how important it is to not take away a man’s agency by taking over or usurping the responsibility he has to care  for himself. If a man is not willing to do for himself, to take good care of himself and make life-affirming choices for his life alone, then one must see him for who he is and for who he wants to be (i.e., a dependent who wants others to take care of him). People wonder why there are so many single black females out there, and one of the primary reasons is that there are so many black men out there who are operating with the minds and actions of  a 15 year old, a/k/a arrested development. And, no matter what color she is, no woman has to accept bad, childish behavior from her partner. There is nothing wrong with going solo, in fact, even as marriage remains a popular goal for many people, including non-heterosexuals, the so-called “institution” of marriage is failing. It is not working in favor of women and I doubt that it can work in any patriarchal dominated environment or society. If a man does not treat a woman respectfully as an emotional equal, then it is best to lose him because even though they are few and far between, there are men who can and will be good and healthy partners to women. And, most importantly, no woman deserves to be with anyone who believes that he is superior to her. I believe that no woman should be with a man who openly practices male supremacy, and thus actively engages in daily acts of domination and control on the basis of gender.

N/B: And I must say, unfortunately, many men believe themselves to be superior to women due to religious beliefs and ideologies that assert that male supremacy and thus female inferiority is how their god intended it to be. It is an outdated, antiquated, inequitable, patriarchal, way of thinking and being, and it has informed our systemic and social reality. It is no accident that white male supremacy is as widespread as it is when male supremacy is promoted and enforced in most if not all social, educational and financial institutions, which are dominated by white men.

Today, I am grateful for the wise words of friends and acquaintances, and for those who have also learned the hard way of what it means to let go of that which causes them pain or harm. Every now and then I see my ex in passing, or along the routes and in the places where we both travel and visit. We still live within a few blocks of each other and there have been times when I was compelled to stop and speak to him (of course that didn’t work out too well). Then there was this: a couple of months ago he called and apologized even to the point of taking full responsibility for the break up of our relationship, which he did not need to do (and I told him that as well). However, it was an apology that lasted less than a month, because within one week of that apology he was back at it again being abusive and disrespectful with his language, ideas and his actions (especially in the form of hiding behind the phone and using it as a weapon against me). By the third week that we had been back in contact, a contact that he initiated, he was doing it again, cycling though his own abuse, and in full swing: being an a*shole and being abusive. I had to realize that in spite of what he was saying, he is not willing to be any different than he already is. I had to admit to myself, that the man that he is now is the man that he is prepared to be until the day that he dies.

So, yes, he “should” do something to help himself, but the fact of the matter is that he probably won’t. Ever. And what I had to accept, in the words of the song by E-40, is that “everybody’s got choices.” Therefore, everybody deserves to make a total mess of their own lives if that’s what they want to do. If you have followed my blogging, then you probably know that my life is already very complicated and writing has something to do with that. The last thing I need to do is to add other peoples’ unnecessary complications to my life when they are not willing to take responsibility for their lives and their choices. In addition, I have spent years learning how to undo co-dependent behavior that has kept me from being who I am. So, while on the one hand, I do hope that the man that I once loved and knew intimately will find the wherewithal to change –  and if he does that I will definitely be supportive of that decision even if emotionally I am long gone from him and what we used to have – on the other hand, and in the words of another song that I really love by smooth jazz artist Norman Brown, “It costs to love somebody,” and, as far as this last ex is concerned, I have already paid the price of loving him. Further, there is only so much that I can do for him. Changing his life and his actions so that they are more loving and lovable are things that he will ultimately have to do for himself, on his own.

Who pays the price for love and loving? We all do in one shape, form or fashion. But, how you pay it and why you pay it is totally and entirely up to you. As you think about the quality of your own life, and how to make it through tough and troubling relationships, I urge you to stay true to yourself and commit yourself to making good and sometimes hard choices, even when the people that you love lack the will and possibly the ability to do the same. Ironically, that is “the something” that you can do to help yourself to building and getting the life that you deserve.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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Richard Dawkins: Articulating Atheism and Giving Atheists a Bad Rap!

By now, most of you know that I don’t condone bigotry in any name! Not racism, not sexism, not heterosexism, not ableism, not any position that diminishes the humanity of another. It is really a shame to me that Dr. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent atheist advocates (or maybe I should say anti-religion advocates) goes to great lengths to characterize Islam as the epitome of evil. Do I think that religion – as an ideology – is oppressive? Yes. Do I reject the practice of worshiping or revering any supernatural world or gods whatsoever, and am I openly critical of such religious expressions and activities? Yes, but what is in it for Dawkins (or anyone for that matter) to claim that Islam is “the greatest force for evil today“? And why would Dr. Dawkins put Islam at the top of the “evil” hierarchy when he writes that he has never read the Qur’an?

If I were to spend that much time labeling a religion as evil but I had not taken the time to read that religion’s most revered text, then I suspect that I might come across as a pompous, presumptuous, and arrogant person. In that case, I could totally understand why my lack of critical engagement with the other might also suggest that I felt that I had the ultimate power and privilege to characterize or define the other as evil not because I had taken the time to inform myself about the inner thinking or theories held by that religious group and their followers, but because I held an opposing position. Indeed, I think that any subsequent accusation, that I was caught up in my own position, privilege and power, would be very legitimate and justified.

This is what entitlement to others’ ideas, narratives, cultures, and persons looks like; and it is most acute when the entitled one is making claims about others without taking the time or the effort to know them or their positions. People who feel entitled to certain positions, behaviors or even the thinking of other human beings often make faulty assumptions. Unfortunately, for example, I have come into contact with many white atheists who assume that they know what it is like to be black and Christian in the U.S.; they assume that the white experience with Christianity is just like the black experience with Christianity. Wrong. There is no essential one-way to be Christian (and definitely not in the U.S.). And, even beyond religion and color, many people are truly clueless as to the historical construction of a traditional black Christian identity. It is painful to hear so many white atheists claim to have some sort of superior position or thinking over black Christians. Conversely, more and more, I am seeing some black atheists make faulty assumptions and unsubstantiated arguments against black Christians, which is also very troubling to me. Perhaps some (black atheists) are doing this in an effort to be accepted by white atheists who have made similar claims and who are at the helm of what is referred to as the secular “movement”? I don’t know. Anyhow, just because one is black and atheist does not mean that one is knowledgeable or aware of the complex ways in which Christianity and blackness are intertwined; some black atheists have deep-seated and personal issues with religion that they have not taken the time to sort through. Nevertheless, blackness and Christianity are identities and expressions that are socially constructed and culturally relative (as are Jews and Judaism, and Indians and Hinduism, and Japanese and Shintoism, etc). It is, in my opinion, critically important to understand this.

Ironically, I believe that it is these human characteristics: entitlement, privilege, arrogance, and presumptuousness, that might be the greatest forces or threats to our existence on this planet, because on the one hand, while it is religion or orthodoxy that have given these behaviors greater social currency and legitimacy, on the other, it is human behavior and the destructive aspects of human behaviors (most of which are learned) that are expressed and circulated in popular scriptural texts, such as The Torah, The Bible and The Qu’ran. Thus, destructive human behaviors are legitimized by religions and their texts, which have enabled human beings to act out of violent supremacist and xenophobic thinking, which are at the root of racist, sexist, misogynistic, capitalistic, and imperialistic actions that have destroyed humans, nonhuman beings, land and environment. Based on what I have learned about religion and religious practices, human beings invented or created myths or narratives of gods and those narratives (expressing belief) became the bases for religious, social and political practices. It is not the other way around; religion did not invent people, human behaviors or human institutions. I find it very disappointing that the more popular that Dr. Dawkins becomes, the more he exhibits the kind of thinking and behaviors that say, “I am a better human being than others because of my atheism.” This is a very nasty, flawed, unjustifiable and “religious” position, and he seems to be using atheism (and his definition of it) to justify his thinking and humanity above that of others. In the brief time that I have known of him and read his works, I am appauled to find that Dr. Dawkins always manages to come back to this idea or ideology (that being atheist makes one morally superior to others). We are all capable of making errors in judgement and thinking, but Dr. Dawkins appears to be unwaveringly committed to this idea. And each time that he returns to it (for example, he has recently attempted to define rape on behalf of others on Twitter), it is, in my opinion, to his detriment. Doesn’t he know, that if not addressed, any compulsive, morally superior thinking and behavior will eventually cause problems; and in some cases it can bring you down, way down? Perhaps he does not know.

Well, I too am an atheist, and I find Dr. Dawkins’s positions on Islam, on racism, sexism, and of course, on rape to be the embodiment of white male privilege and entitlement. Do I support the central and traditional teachings or claims of Islam, Judaism or Christianity? Not really. Have these teachings reinforced bad and destructive human behaviors? Absolutely! And do I critique Christian beliefs and behaviors? Yes. But, being atheist does not make me or anybody a good person or a smart person, and that is something that I have never claimed. Being an atheist (and coming from a Western-context), I advocate for atheism as a position and an idea that deserves to be articulated. More importantly, atheism should be heard in a world that is dominated by religionists and believers who support and worship alleged gods who called for the innocent and arbitrary killing of people. In this respect I see the three most dominant religions and belief systems as oppressive and potentially violent. And there is evidence for this claim. No matter what justifications can be made on their behalf, Christianity, Judaism and Islam support violence and that against women, children and anyone who goes against the constructed order of their patriarchal hierarchies. Articulating atheism in this light will include a critique of those who believe and of the tenets or expressions of their beliefs, but, critique is one thing, especially when it is accurate and grounded in actual knowledge, information and evidence. An uneducated, essentialized, simplified rant or claim about a specific religious group or sect and the humanity/intelligence of its followers (as good or evil) is entirely different. So when any atheist engages in disparaging the humanity of believers (as opposed to offering valid critiques of the beliefs they hold) while simultaneously promoting atheism as the smarter and thus more superior choice, then he is, in my book, what I would call religious and “the pot calling the kettle black!” This kind of behavior gives atheists and atheism (as an expression) a bad rap.

Like Owen Jones, whose recent article in The Independent, inspired this blog, I too follow Richard Dawkins on Twitter and I have often seen Dr. Dawkins send out tweets that diminish the humanity of others; and he often does this without a complex understanding of what he is talking about, especially when it comes to racism and sexism. Yes, Dr. Dawkins knows a whole lot about evolutionary biology, way more than I do, but he lacks a critical and complex understanding of the factors that contribute to racism and sexism in particular (and he probably fails to understand how religion has been used by some cultural groups, such as African-Americans to fight injustice and oppression). Therefore, despite his contributions to our understanding of evolution and the genetic development of the human being, Dr. Dawkins does not mind articulating his disdain for Islam as “the greatest force of evil,” and that on grounds that he is an atheist and an evolutionary biologist. On the contrary, I would like to say that being an atheist does not make one essentially superior to or better than others, and any atheist who thinks this, including Dr. Richard Dawkins, needs to take several seats!

So, on this issue (calling Islam “the greatest force for evil today”) I am definitely in agreement with Mr. Jones, and would like to challenge Dr. Dawkins by saying, “Dr. Dawkins, don’t be a bigot in the name of atheism; you are giving us (atheists) a bad rap!” I don’t know how anyone can rank “evil” accurately, unless one has an intimate and personal knowledge of evil, but I totally doubt that Islam is the greatest force for evil today. In my opinion, from my standpoint in life, all “forces” of evil work together at varying and intersecting points to make evil what it is: evil.

As a non-believer, I want the atheist case to be made. I want religious belief to be scrutinized and challenged. I want Britain to be a genuinely secular nation, where religious belief is protected and defended as a private matter of conscience. But I feel prevented from doing so because atheism in public life has become so dominated by a particular breed that ends up dressing up bigotry as non-belief. It is a tragedy. And that is why it is so important that atheists distance themselves from those who undermine our position. Richard Dawkins can rant and rave about Muslims as much as he wants. But atheists: let’s stop allowing him to do it in our name. ~ Owen Jones

Hear! Hear!

© 2013 annalise fonza, Ph.D. [Please note that this blog was first posted on August 10, 2013, but was updated on August 1, 2014]