From 2015-2018, I dated a man I thought was the love of my life. In many ways, he was. He fit the bill. He lovingly accepted my daughter, we made incredible plans, we dove into enlightening discussions. He really made me feel like I was his rock and would one day be the bearer of his children and last name. He entrusted me with the work of making him a better man and I proudly took on the labor. The first year he damn near constantly broke up with me. He stopped saying “I love you”, withheld affection, held over my head the mistakes I made and chastised me for believing Depression, which I’ve dealt with since childhood, was a real thing. I tried desperately to live up to the archetype he etched in his mind as the woman he desired, his perfect partner, and when I broke his trance by audaciously being a human being, I was alienated. During that time he lost his job. Again, I took it upon myself to be there for him. He drove my car when I was at work, I assisted him with his resume, I sent him positions I believed he’d be perfect for. Then I lost my job. And I was expected to give to myself all I had given him, even though I was at depletion. His energy towards me became this:
It became: “Why can’t you do for yourself what you did for me?” So I tried. I tried to hold me together while holding up my child, my businesses and him. Everything became an expectation of results; I couldn’t just be without an explanation. You know the worst type of gaslighters? Those unaware that they spew gas and carry matches. I was lit on fire so much my skin hung from my body, yet I took honor in keeping him warm.
I hid most of my pain. I walked on eggshells, not wanting to rock the boat anymore than he needed. And I endured, watching him grow while I laid emaciated. But this is love, right? Love has its ups and downs. Love has its moments where one carries another. But who carries the carrier? Who is the rock for the boulder? Who becomes the ear when the soundingboard deems you too loud? He’d blamed me, my exes, my emotions for my depressive episodes not seeing he was a root cause. Nearly a year ago after supporting him during a rough deployment and repeated battles of PTSD and Depression, he left me for the final time, telling me he’s different and that my having depression drained him. A few weeks back, I learned he’s engaged to the woman he met on deployment who, during our frequent FB Messenger calls, was always noticeably absent. The words of a sage woman spilled over me during my collapse: “When we’re done playing with our toys, we donate them to the less fortunate.” There are plenty of men completed by the thankless work of women who never are given their roses. They meet new women, projecting the postures of fully-formed men. They give themselves over as gifts who only speak of past partners negatively while conveniently hiding their hands. I was one of those left behind. The healing I had done over the last 9 months shattered. The dreams of a possible reconciliation were destroyed. Then my therapist woke me up: “nothing you’ve spoken about this man says to me he’s any good”. My sister shook the table: “Sis, he was your favorite thing to fix. And you know how we love to fix things.” And there I was: a lifetime of codependency staring back at me.
I did this for years thinking it’s how love worked. I was raised to be the fixer. I had become addicted to being needed. Most black women are. We cannot rest until everyone is happy. Those massive loads of expected emotional labor are toxic and abusive. Intentionally or not, the church posits this type of love as the norm, or worse, what God intends. Always be the Proverbs 31 women regardless of what’s thrown at you. Nevermind the physical and psychological harm — take your pain with a smile. We have romanticized pain and only wish to uphold a black woman by how much she can endure. We have constructed Struggle Love to mask as Unconditional Love, both being illogical. This type of thinking depends on womens’ ability to “hurry up and wait” for a man to not only grow up but see the damage he’s causing. He won’t, sis. Most will not seek help as showing weakness is frowned upon. There are so many sermons and conferences about how women need to be positioned and perfected for the man God has for her. But where is this same energy for men? Why must we exist blemish-free while men can just flow through tarnished?
I was this-month-years old when I learned how toxic to me my behavior was. I was so codependent on being needed by people who couldn’t love me back. I realize how much of my life I wasted being love and light to men who sought my demise, thinking I could love them to healed while neglecting, or worse hiding, myself and my wounds. I served as a piggy bank filled with what they wanted. And how do you get the goods? You break the bank, you take what’s inside and you throw the rest away.
A man I loved, covered, supported, left me and my daughter after benefiting so deeply from me and giving back barely anything in return. We chalk that up as loving the wrong person but honestly, it’s abuse. Taking from and depleting someone for your sole gain is abuse. It hurts to realize that. God knows it hurt me as this woman who thought I had the game figured out. I lived and judged my life by how everyone else around me was doing and if they weren’t doing well, I took it upon myself to help and fix. No one asked me to. They didn’t need to. It was my self-imposed lot in life after it being tied into my existence. I took honor in that. I gladly put myself on the backburner as that’s what God wants (or so the church tells us). This is my wake up call.
It is now that the definitions of abuse are being uncovered and it honestly makes most of us uncomfortable. Behavior that rested in normality is now looking funny in the light. We have to come to the harsh realizations that a lover can also be an abuser. We also have to fight the guilt that it’s our fault abuse happened. We are not at fault. We deserve love in every capacity. We deserve fully-realized partners and not having to do the work of and for grown men. We have to end the narrative that struggle love is the only way to know love, that unconditional love is a backdoor means to inflict harm, that we must carry everything and everyone on our backs to be deemed worthy of love. I as an infirmary am closed, my rehab center existence is shuttered, my reality of acting as a birthing place is condemned and torn down. I’m no one’s pack mule, table or punching bag.
All this to confidently say, he ain’t gon change, sis. So let’s rise from the table, gather our things, flip that bitch and be on our way. Do the work and cover ourselves in the finest garment of love — a love of self. That’s what I’m doing. A deeper, more solid you is waiting on the other side. If you so choose, birth babies. Birth new projects. Rebirth yourself. Don’t task yourself or answer the call to be tasked to birth a grown ass man.
To the man I loved: thank you. For bringing the abuse I refused to see to the forefront.
By your actions.
By your neglect.
By your abandonment.
Also, fuck you forever.
I’ve never been more free.
cues Destiny’s Child Free