By Arial Ruffin
When it comes to dating and relationships, I know exactly what I don’t want. Now, that doesn’t necessarily translate to me knowing what I do want, but it helps me to recognize red flags and weed out people who don’t share the same intention and love that I do. Basically, I’d rather be picky than a “pick me.”
“Pick me” is a term coined on Twitter that describes the type of woman who would essentially do anything to get and “keep” a man. In examining the values I was taught in regards to relationships, I can say I was on the road to becoming one of those “pick me” women.
I shuddered when one of my best friends told me her three aunts, equally lively, beautiful, successful, and all over the age of 50, had never walked down the aisle.
I believed it when people said Black women were less likely to get married.
And from the very beginning, I was taught to play on my most attractive physical features, but to also be modest, to appeal to men physically but also emotionally, to be submissive and accommodating, and to be understanding and willing to easily forgive. I was taught to be all of the things a good Southern Christian girl should be.
But as an adult, I’ve come to realize that I was being groomed to become a doormat—some sort of mystical creature that could shapeshift in order to fit whatever mold my partner created for me. It occurred to me that I never really asked myself what I wanted or needed in a relationship, and whether or not I was getting those things.
I didn’t suffer from a lack of positive Black male figures, or confident Black women in my life, but I was seeing a lack of healthy relationship ideals like reciprocity and accountability all around me. The women in my life were groomed the same way I was being groomed. They were taught to stretch, shrink, and accommodate in relationships regardless of the impact on their personal well-being. This was something I saw as a direct parallel to the way women are commonly expected to operate in everyday life.
Last month, Pastor John Gray sparked a hot debate about Black women and relationships when discussing his marriage on Sister Circle. Gray said, “My wife has endured more pain birthing me than both of our children. She has sacrificed these last eight years uncovering the painful areas of my manhood and covering the areas that could have exposed me.”
It was such a familiar narrative.
As I got older, I began to see how my mother and grandmother tiptoed, camouflaged, and molded themselves to support their men and to make relationships work. I was there through the heartbreaks. I felt the effects. I still feel them. I have friends who took online classes for their boyfriends, helped them land jobs and build careers. So many Black women I know have given men extraordinary love. They have raised and built their men up in the face of infidelity, illegitimate children, emotional and physical abuse, disrespect, and utter disregard. I now closely assess what I once considered #relationshipgoals.
My father is on his fourth marriage. After being divorced for more than 10 years, my mother is getting married next year. It’s her second engagement to the same man and one I had to sell her on. She was about to pass on a man she loved deeply, who, dare I say it, never treated her badly. Despite being someone who is not a party in their relationship, I can still say with confidence that this man has never put my mother through any trauma.
I fought for their engagement because one, I do, in fact, recognize what’s best for her. Two, I truly believe he’ll give her the love she deserves. Three, I can see what she can’t, a personal flaw that has clouded her romantic pursuits for most of her life. Like many women, my mother is addicted to bullsh-t. To her, the relationship was too easy. She was so used to chaos and having to work and hurt before something worked out that a man that treats her well scared her more than a man who doesn’t.
Our culture romanticizes very unhealthy situations under the guise of love. As partners, we often have expectations and perceptions that don’t mirror the reality of our relationships. We turn a blind eye to warning signs and mistreatment. We make our hearts collateral damage because we’re so eager for companionship, love, and affection, and glad to say we have someone.
Now that I recognize this old tendency of mine, and a present tendency of so many others, I say this: Suffering should not be a rite of passage in relationships, and enduring mistreatment is not a reflection of love or loyalty.
People can change and there’s nothing wrong with growing with someone. I am a witness and a testament of will power. But if it’s killing your spirit, causing you to jump through hoops or forcing you to customize yourself to make someone else happy, no matter what social media, your upbringing, or your elders might tell you, it’s not meant for you.