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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On the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.: From an Atheist

On occasions, I am asked if I would date a believer, or a person who believes in a god or supernatural being, such as a Supreme Being. Being an atheist, there was a time that I said unequivocally no to that question. But, about two years ago I began to soften my response. For example, in 2012, in an NPR interview with Jamila Bey, I said openly that I was “flexible.”

Recently, I met someone who is a believer, and we connected. Although he is not what I would call a religious enthusiast or fanatic, at times he talks about his god and his faith with subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to inform me that his god is real. Because of my feelings for him, I overlook it, and there are times when I engage him gently with questions about his religious thoughts and philosophies. I am willing to be in this kind of critical engagement with him because 1) I understand his actions; I once did the same kind of thing – used every opportunity to “witness” or share my faith (often when it was not requested) with others; and 2) because it is another way for me to get to know him and the basis for his everyday actions or behaviors in life. And, I have yet to encounter a Christian who does not feel compelled to be vocal about his or her faith. It goes with the territory.

So, what did it for me? How could I allow myself to be in an intimate relationship with a man who believes in something that I don’t? On what grounds is it conscionable that I get along or share myself with a man who does not share the same ideas or philosophies that I hold? These are questions that I am contemplating at length on the 29th anniversary of the Martin Luther Kr., Jr. national holiday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who challenged the white racist ideology or philosophies of his time. By the 1950s and 60s, those white racist philosophies and socio-political expressions of whiteness were incorporated into federal, local and state policies and institutions, such as urban renewal, which was a federal housing policy that had a disparate impact upon former urban Negro communities, and at a time when urban blacks were fighting institutional oppression at an alarming rate. Throughout my lifetime, I have come to understand Dr. King as a man who stood against social division and exclusion on political and personal grounds. I have also come to know him as a man who believed wholeheartedly in achieving a peaceful coexistence despite everyday unjust behaviors and inhumane practices, here in the U.S. and beyond.

With regard to my political and personal commitments, I have come to realize that I do not want to section myself and my life off to only those who think or behave like me. I want to meet and know others whose lives and philosophies are different from mine and without the compulsion or the need to willfully mock or dismantle their thinking or beliefs, just because they are different from mine. On the other hand, there will be times when I will be openly critical of ideas or philosophies (including religious ones) that are expressed in public that I reject or disagree with; that is something Martin Luther King Jr. did with the power of the spoken word, and he did it mainly from the pulpit, as an American preacher. Likewise, I am fundamentally empowered by the freedom of speech as we know it in a Western way. And, it is that freedom of speech that I rely on, as an atheist, to say publicly that I do NOT believe in gods of any kind. I have that right, even though the majority may respond to that statement or position with hate, rejection or discrimination.

In addition, what I have come to learn is that I am not responsible for the thinking or the belief of others, which, I think, is one reason that I can spend my personal time and person with a man who believes in a supernatural god or ideas. I am not his keeper. I am not responsible for what happens to him when he dies or really at any time for that matter. I do not choose an intimate partner on the basis of what he believes, but on the content of his character. In other words, my being with a man is essentially not predicated on where he lives, or how much money he makes, or how supportive he is of my thinking or behavior. My decision to be intimately involved with a potential partner is not determined by whether or not he believes in a god or whether he shares my worldview. Rather, my being with a man, or being with any person for that matter to accomplish any goal, is rooted in a healthy engagement of ideas and critical thinking. At the end of the day, I want to know who a man is overall. I want to know if he is committed to doing good; to being the best person he can be; I want to know if he is willing to use his talents and skills to help and empower others; and, is he a peaceful, loving person, even when his ideas are not supported or he does not get what he wants.

Indeed, this is not the kind of behavior that I have seen from many atheists or theists who use their positions and philosophies like weapons to discredit those who don’t ascribe to their ideas or theories of reality. These are extreme and unjustifiable attitudes that I cannot support, because the truth of the matter is that others may not choose to walk in the paths that I have taken. We each have our own paths to attend to. When I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., I don’t worry about whether he was a Christian believer or not. I respect and honor him because he was a great human being who courageously endeavored to bring about fairness and equality, and not exclusively for his own clan or Christian friends. Of course, I know that there will always be those who choose to remain divided over philosophies and ideas, but I have lived long enough to know that there is no future in divisiveness, and fortunately I know that there are those who have found the wherewithal to accept those who are different or divergent in thought, word and deed without resorting to contempt, hate and violence, but they are also not willing to let injustice and hatred go unconfronted. This kind of boldness and willingness to speak compassionately and thoughtfully, I think, is a significant part of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is, in my humble, atheist opinion, one of the attributes that made him one of the greatest human beings who ever lived on the face of the Earth.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.