and all the other ideas sold to Black women about relationships
Written for Therapy for Black Girls, April 27, 2021
During the beginning of quarantine, I discovered newfound joy in watching Married at First Sight. Not only could I not believe that groups of strangers decided to marry someone they had never met or seen before. But, the couple and family therapist in me was so intrigued by the experts setting these people up and seeing which couples would work or not. However, this season of Married at First Sight is unlike any that I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil it for those of you who don’t watch. But after watching one couple in particular (Chris and Paige), it’s been reminding me of how often women stay in relationships that are no longer serving us for the sake of love. It’s as if women have been taught that being married with children is always the end goal. With all of the messages that Black women receive, whether from Christianity, the media, our own thoughts, and fears, it can be hard not to believe that to gain true love, one must suffer first.
"Love is Patient, Love is Kind"
When it came to the couple on Married at First Sight, the biggest reason Paige gave for staying in the marriage with Chris was that she felt this is what God had for her and she wanted to see it through. So often, people perceive messages from the bible as reasons to stay and have faith that things will get better. This article by no means is meant to offend anyone who believes in Christianity. This is just to call attention to some of the common messages we may have internalized and challenge us to add different perspectives. In fact, I’m speaking from experience as someone who has used bible verses to justify that this is what I was supposed to be doing, so no judgment here. But how could we not? One of the most known bible verses is 1 Corinthians 13:4, which starts with “love is patient, love is kind.” So we tend to wait things out and turn the other cheek, and try to be the bigger person in relationships. But 1 Corinthians 13 also states a few verses later, that “[love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. So if you feel you are not protected, not able to trust your partner, or the only one hoping or persevering, is it love that you’re fighting for or just comfort? When watching Married at First Sight, I kept yelling at my tv to Paige “Girl this is not it, God wants more for you sis!” And that’s when it hit me, that’s what we should be telling ourselves. The bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, so why would God want us to settle?
"The Ride or Die"
Even if you aren’t religious, you don’t have to read the bible to receive some of these same messages. How many movies, tv series, or songs have you seen depicting the storyline of women holding on, and sticking it out until their partner eventually gets it together and they live happily ever after? A lot, am I right? In Elaine Welteroth’s book, More Than Enough, she has a whole chapter titled “The Ride or Die” where she discusses the messages young women receive on staying and forgiving through dysfunction, how she saw it play out in her own life, and what the older version of her would tell her younger self. She does such a great job of articulating the thought processes that many young women face in their early relationships. Another one of my favorite examples of messages women receive in relationships is the movie, He’s Just Not That Into You. The very first scene depicts how little girls are indoctrinated to believe that if a boy is mean to you, that really means he likes you, which leads to all the other exceptions and excuses women tell each other to make sense of our romantic partners behavior.
There are plenty of narratives that lead to wanting to be “the ride or die.” Maybe it’s feeling that you’ve already put so much time and energy into the relationship, so you can’t give up now. Or maybe you don’t want to be the one person to leave them after all that they’ve been through. You want to be the exception, the one person that shows them what unconditional love is. Sometimes we get caught up in the fairytale or fantasy we have created in our mind. We don’t want to leave because we have fallen in love with the potential of the person, and if they could just fix a few things, everything would be perfect. It doesn’t help that when women do decide to choose themselves, and leave a relationship that is not good for them, they receive blame and are seen as selfish or heartless. So here is a friendly reminder that the longer you stay somewhere, the harder it may be to leave. Not to mention, choosing what’s best for you does not make you a bad person. In the words of Jen Sincero, “You aren’t a selfish person for taking care of yourself, just a happier one.”
"That Degree is Not Going to Keep You Warm At Night"
Research has shown that among Black students in higher education, Black women are more likely than Black men to attain degrees. And while attaining degrees and higher education is something to be proud of, a lot of Black women are warned that “your degrees won’t keep you warm at night.” I’m sure the intention of this warning is to make sure that we don’t forget to leave some room for fun and relationships while in the pursuit of our dreams. However, it sometimes gives the message that all you work for won’t mean much if you don’t have anyone to come home to. So we may stay in relationships out of fear of being lonely, because even if the relationship isn’t the best, at least you have someone. While wanting companionship and a partner are very natural desires, be sure that this desire doesn’t eclipse all of the other passions and people you have in your life. Being single may have periods of loneliness, but it doesn’t have to mean that you are literally alone or that there are not people that love and care for you.
Takeaway Questions to Ask Yourself
To be clear, my intention for this article is not to tell you to up and leave whatever relationship you are in whenever things get difficult. Relationships are not always easy, it does take compromise, patience, and forgiveness. I just hope this article gives you a few things to think about if you’re feeling conflicted about whether or not you should stay in your relationship. So here are a few questions to take away from this article.
Does the good outweigh the bad? It may be helpful to create a pros and cons list of your relationship so that you can have a more objective and visual representation of it.
Are you more in love with your memories with the person, or who they are showing up to be now? Sometimes we allow the time spent with a person to dictate if we stay with them. We don’t want to start over, or put in all this time and energy into someone, just for them to end up with someone else. But staying with someone solely for the time served sounds more like a jail sentence than a relationship.
Think of the top 5 values that you have. Some examples of values include loyalty, respect, honesty, family, justice, compassion, stability, hard work, adventure, or education. Does this relationship align with those values? Does this person help you to grow in the areas that are important to you?
Do you feel like this relationship is depleting you or adding to you? When you are away from your partner, do you feel more at peace than when you are with them? Do you find yourself feeling anxious about what could go wrong when you two are together, or excited and looking forward to spending time together? Is this a relationship that allows you to be your full and authentic self? Thinking of these questions can help you decipher if this relationship is a draining your energy or becoming another source of energy for you.
If a friend/little sister/daughter were in this situation, what would you tell them? Sometimes it’s easier to give advice when we are outside of the situation. So imagine that someone you love was describing the exact relationship that you are in. Does the relationship sound healthy to you? Do you feel like they are getting the love and respect they deserve? What advice would you give them? Maybe that is the same advice you could be taking for yourself.
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