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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Saying My Name: The Power of Fictions and Everyday Name-Calling

I didn’t always like or embrace my birth name, “Annalise.”  During my childhood and adolescence years, many teased me and arbitrarily shortened my name for convenience. I suppose in that light I was very uncomfortable with my name; it seemed inconvenient, burdensome, and not “classically beautiful” or cultural-enough for a young black girl. The discomfort that others had regarding my name, with saying the name, Annalise, when referring to me, caused me to implicitly reject it very early on. For the most part, I only used Annalise – the name that was assigned to me at birth by my parents – in formal settings, or when I had to. Otherwise, in personal and familial settings, I didn’t refer to myself as Annalise for a very long time.

As I came of age, or when I began to develop my own identity (apart from my family and friends), and as my choices exposed me to the the complexities of life as a human being, I finally let go of the nicknames and used Annalise exclusively and everyday. Of course there have been some family, friends, and even some acquaintances, who have continued to “call me out of my name,” or to call me something other than Annalise. Mostly, when that happens, I take it as a term of endearment, but it also is indicative of how patterns (including speech patterns) are extremely hard to break. However, ever since I started introducing myself as Annalise, that name has been the name that I have chosen to embrace. It’s not Anna. Not Lise. But Annalise. My name is annalise [which is how I spell it intentionally – with low-case letters]!

Being known as annalise has been a very complicated affair. I didn’t know myself as annalise until I was in my 20s. Once I accepted it, and rather awkwardly back then, I gradually learned to like it, but the acceptance of my name took years to achieve.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the new Shonda Rhimes’ television series, How To Get Away With Murder. Due to the central role that black women have been placed in these shows, Rhimes has challenged many viewers to consider taboo subjects and social conventions. Through black women characters, like Miranda Bailey, Olivia Pope, and Annalise Keating, Rhimes constructs a storyline that situates black women in personal and professional (as in working or labor-related) relationships with white men. The narrative that Rhimes has put together is very complicated and complex. As a black woman, I can totally relate to the intersectionality of this landscape because race, gender, class and sexuality are always converging and often when I least expect them to meet. Many of the black women that I know personally and those who watch the Thursday night Rhimes trilogy deal head-on with living their lives in close proximity to white men who often articulate (verbal and nonverbal) troubled expressions that have been aimed historically at black women – or what I refer to as women of apparent African heritage. A myriad of issues and factors go into the lives we hold and the names we have been called by white men and others. We have repeatedly been called “bad” names: like bitch, whore, wench, and cunt. And along the way, there have been some “good” names like: colleague, lover, partner, sister, etc. [but I will caveat that to say that the terms “good” and “bad” can be quite relative]. For example, last year, in 2013, I wrote a blog voicing my initial thoughts on the Scandal series featuring Kerry Washington as the main protagonist, Olivia Pope [which is not available because I am currently editing it for e-publication].

In spite of my criticisms of Rhimes’s characters and plots, I am still glad that she does what she does: write and produce television programs. That I don’t particularly like a perspective or an storyline does not mean that I have rejected Rhimes or any of her productions. In fact, I have continued to watch for a couple of reasons, at least: 1) to show my support for who Shonda Rhimes is and what she represents in the overall scheme of “Hollyweird”; and 2) so that I can continue to articulate an opinion from an informed and intelligent place. One of my biggest peeves is when people form opinions, but do not take the time to educate themselves about the subject or the landscape of their opinions (in fact, we really shouldn’t call such talk opinion at all, because it is really just blubbering on and on). Anyhow, since watching How To Get Away With Murder, I was not ready for how affirming it would be to hear my name, annalise, repeated over and over again and in reference to a lead, black female protagonist. I was not ready for the power of that act: of repeatedly hearing the name Annalise in reference to a black woman protagonist. As humans we learn and come to understand many things in life because of repetition. Yes, there are challenging and troublesome issues or factors associated with the part of Annalise Keating, but it has been very refreshing and powerful to hear a name that I once did not embrace, and a name that many do not associate with black women or black culture personified by Viola Davis, who is, in my opinion, one of the most awesome black actresses in Hollyweird today! It was so good (positive) to hear that I often found myself repeating it after certain startling scenes from the episodes: Annalise! Annalise! Annalise! [Like the one where Annalise removed her wig and confronted her husband Sam with his naked picture on the phone].

I spent the first twenty years of my life rejecting the name, Annalise, and now, twenty years beyond that (since I have embraced it for myself), a black woman actress who I respect plays a critical role that many can identify with across lines of race, gender, class and sexuality. In watching this particular television show by Shonda Rhimes, I have felt such an amazing and warm sense of validation for who I am and how I have “named” myself via the acceptance of my birth name. Truly, that feeling caught me by surprise! Who knew that a fictive television character would have such a good and positive impact upon my personal identity through the repetitive saying of my name? Indeed, many black people have know the power that comes from saying one’s name everyday with pride and respect in a world that has historically called us out of our names and assigned us names that we did not accept or agree with. I imagine that this is one of the reasons that some black people have rejected their birth names and assigned themselves new names to give voice and power to the persons they are and to the lives they wish to live. And, as a former United Methodist minister I know that this is one reason that many people, especially black people, have embraced fictive narratives and cultural myths, like religion or Christianity (however, I am not by any means arguing that one should exclusively situate or place one’s total human experience in a fiction, a myth or an outdated belief system).

As complicated as the characters in Rhimes’s shows may be, one thing is for sure: there are some black women writers and actors who are standing in the tradition of other black women, and men, and those in between, who dared to speak up, write bold new scripts, and break down the ignorance that held them back from expressing and loving ourselves as boldly and fiercely as they possibly could! So, what have I learned by watching How To Get Away With Murder? That no matter what, we – black women and all oppressed, disinherited people – must continue to speak our names, for in the everyday calling of our names, honestly and authentically, we can come to a better understanding and acceptance of who we really are!

©2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

N/B: Please note that there are allusions to several other writers in this blog, including: bell hooks, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Howard Thurman, Pearl Cleage, Alessandra Stanley.