“How could you be so fucking stupid? Have I not been good to you? Have I not done more for you than any other man ever would have?”
Just as you open your mouth to respond, he jumps up from his seat and begins pacing from wall to wall. You take a moment to observe him, to look at his tightly clenched fists. To look at the firm scowl set into his face. To look into his eyes, empty and distant. You bite your tongue and listen as he continues.
“I’ve never raised my voice to you. I’ve never hit you. I’ve cooked for you, cleaned for you. I take you out. Hell, I eat you out whenever you want me to! How the fuck could you do me like this?!”
You aren’t quite sure how to respond to that, but you do know that you should avoid your first inclination, which is to laugh. I’ve never raised my voice to you. I’ve never hit you. I’ve cooked for you, cleaned for you. I take you out. Hell, I eat you out whenever you want me to. What low standards men—and especially straight men— are held to. “You want a cookie for not physically abusing me?” you internally scream. “Give the man an award.” What kind of measure is that to judge the quality of one’s relationship against? He fulfilled the bare minimum required of people in romantic partnerships. And that is praiseworthy because…..? Because……?
You know that what he really wants to say is, “I’m a *nice* guy! Why would you embarrass me by sleeping with someone else? Why would you willfully open your body to another man when it belongs to me? Why, why, why?”
But he must know why. He has to know. You think back to the series of feminist think-pieces he published for that trendy online magazine. He garnered so much praise for calling Black men out on their inability to love and care for anyone who wasn’t a cishet man. And although everyone was enamored of this Black man who was *brave* enough to claim Black feminism as his bible, you could only think of the countless hours you spent telling him about the ways in which Audre Lorde and bell hooks saved your life. About the moments Kimberlé Crenshaw and Dorothy Roberts offered you clarity and insight you never knew you needed. About Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou teaching you a language you never knew you were yearning to speak. All the while, he remained silent with the disposition of a parent who indulges their child’s fantastic notions. But the byline showed you he was listening. Quite intently. And though you weren’t enraged to see his byline, you wondered why he never mentioned that he was working on the pieces. As the woman who spent long—often tension-fraught—hours compelling him to understand why you were so invested in seeking freedom and liberation, you wondered why your existence never factored into the articles, why your presence in his life was completely erased. And each time you began to think, “Did he dispossess me of my own labor?” you stopped and told yourself, “No, calm down. Be happy for him. Celebrate his achievements, and offer your support.”
You recall the moments he’d cut you off while you were speaking so that he could make a lazy point about an innocuous topic. Like yesterday. He broke into the middle of your sentence to talk about how Jay-Z making a run for president in 2020 would actually be an incredible thing. “But wasn’t I just talking about my frustrations with that white bitch at work?” You pause and remind yourself to calm down. “It’s not that important. I can talk about it later.”
And then there were all the moments he’d correct you. Just for shits and giggles. Like last Saturday when you were headed to The Grove for dinner. You were driving, and he was sitting beside you in the passenger seat, playing with his phone. When he realized what street you were on, he placed his hand on your thigh and gently squeezed.
“Babe, which way are you trying to go? You know this is the longer way. We need to just go straight up LaBrea. It’s the faster route.”
“No, this way is shorter. Plus, there’s more traffic on LaBrea. And it’s a Saturday night. We’ll bypass all that if we go this way.”
“Babe, I’m telling you—”
You waited until the next intersection to make a U-turn and reroute yourself. Once you made it to the edge of Miracle Mile, you hit a pocket of traffic and sat in it for 25 minutes. You turned to look at the man beside you. Feeling your gaze, he looked up from his phone and smirked, “Funny thing, huh? I guess it turns out you were right.”
“Why would it be funny that I was right about something?” you fumed. “Why is that a joke to you? You know how often this happens, right? Maybe you should just listen to me the first time.”
He leaned over and placed a soft kiss on the corner of your mouth. “Babe, chill. We’re almost there. It’s okay.”
And, of course, there was that one argument. The argument where all these things poured out. Where you told him how many times you felt hurt, how many times you felt belittled, neglected, and used. You outlined every single instance he made you shrink, each moment he made you feel small. You gave him details, details, details. So very many details…
When you were finished, he sat there stunned. “Well, if I’m so terrible, then why are we even together? Why are you even with me?”
“That’s not the point!” you emphasized. “We’ve got to talk. We’ve got to address this. You have to help me help you. It’s not that I don’t love you—it’s that I don’t love the way you love me. You’ve got to give me more.”
And he did give you more. He apologized and promised that the would do better. And for a while, he did. He listened to you. He didn’t question your knowledge. For a short period of time, it felt like he saw you, like he really saw you. But it didn’t last.
Because soon you’d once again find yourself at dinner getting talked over. Because soon you’d once again find yourself asking him why he didn’t say shit—why he actually had the nerve to laugh—when his friend said, “No dark-skinned or brown-skinned chick could ever get my attention like a solid ass redbone.” Because soon you’d once again find yourself listening for hours and hours and hours as he complained about getting passed over for a promotion at work because his bosses didn’t find him charismatic enough. And yet, when you tried to explain how much you empathized with him by describing how the white girl in HR insists on making your life a living hell, he’d respond with, “Love, I’m tired. Can’t we talk about it in the morning? And I think you’re overthinking this. You probably just need to be nicer to her. Just relax.”
And so yes, you slept with someone else. And yes, you did it more than once. You wanted to hurt him. You wanted him to feel just as empty and torn as you felt every single time he shut you down, every single time he shut you out. And you had the best sex of your life while doing it. What is it they say? Go big or go home? You took that advice to heart…
But as you stop to explain this to him, you wonder how much he’ll actually take in. You wonder how much he’ll actually absorb. Sure, he’ll be hurt—broken even—but because you’ve shattered his heart or because you’ve shamed and *emasculated* him? Will his anger stem from the fact that your transgression made it seem like he couldn’t hold it down at home, forcing you to seek fulfillment elsewhere?
And while you will move on and always carry the insecurities this wreck of a relationship made you feel in your bones, he will probably move on and tell the next one the same words he told you: “You should be so grateful to have a man so good.”
So you pause. You stop. You wonder how emancipatory this romantic love can be in a world poisoned with patriarchal and racial oppression. And then you wonder if it’s all just too much and whether or not you really just need to go find that bottle of Jack you picked up last week to drown it all out.
But, no. No. You refuse to drown yourself for him, so you take a line from the king of ain’t-shitness, and amend it to your own needs instead. “I hope you can accept the fact that I was woman enough to tell you this, and also know that I’m not looking for another chance.”
He stares at you. Wide-eyed. Silent. Confused. “What? What do you mean?”
“I mean, this is it. I’m just telling you for the sake of telling you. Because of moral responsibility? I mean, you know, for my actions, I guess. I don’t know, but I know I’m not apologizing for leaving. For hurting you? Yes. But I’m not trying to make this thing work with you.”
He grabs his head with both hands and interlocks his fingers at the nape of his neck. He moves backward, farther away from you. His stare grows wider as he resists blinking. He’s totally and completely immobilized by the fact that you don’t want him, that you’re out of it, that you’re walking away. Were it not for the deep exhale and the tears that begin to make their way down his face, you would’ve thought time was standing still.
None of this feels as good as you expected it to. You don’t feel joyful. You don’t feel vindicated. You don’t feel whole and restored. In some ways, you feel just as fucked up as you’ve always painted him to be. Yet, you also don’t feel as hollow as you used to. And even though you know your hands are far from clean, you find some peace in the acknowledgment that now, unburdened of this, you just might be able to free yourself. And it’s this promise of freedom and self-realization which convinces you that regardless of your imperfections, you deserve more. And with that, you decide that you’ve got to muster the courage to move on.