A series named in tribute to Bell Hooks. Love is a subject that is often discussed in the most trivial and superficial terms. Love, as a subject matter, especially from a Black perspective, hardly ever includes discussions regarding the nature of love, the function of love, the purpose of love, or the relevance of love. All we ever talk about is how we want it, have it, never had it, or keep losing it. We are right to see lack of love as a concern; we just have to choose the right angle for exploring solutions. Here is where that happens.
After watching the latest episode of Scandal, I was sent into thought by Mellie’s plight.
When Mellie says, “You don’t have to love me. But we are in this hell together and the flames are burning both of us with equal intensity, baby, so the least you could do is be my friend — just a little bit. The least you could do is show up, show up for me.” That moment hit home for me. There are times in relationships when things get so dysfunctional that you start to feel that you almost forget how you ever came to love that person. And, as emotions begin to wane, we make excuses to justify why we refuse to do all the things we used to do (you know the ones that make the relationship work). But then if we stop doing those things aren’t we as much to blame for the failure of the relationship. A dysfunctional/bad/dying relationship is still a relationship and as long as we’re in it, we should continue to do what we have committed ourselves to doing when we started the relationship because what does love/affection actually have to do with commitment?
Commitment is like trust: it’s a choice. It’s a purely individual choice that should not be built on a pretense of some specific response. You commit because it’s what you choose to do and you uphold that commitment because that is what you choose to do (the honorable thing to do, I might add). The commitment isn’t about controlled responses or specific actions. Hell, it isn’t even about love. Commitment is about us doing our part. And if we are focused on doing our part, we should have so much to keep us busy we cannot possibly police our partners efforts to do their part. If they are committed then they will show up and if they do not then address their lack of commitment and decide if the two of you should be in a relationship at all.
We often confuse commitment with control. We say we want someone who is committed and/or consistent but we are really saying is that we want someone who will act the way we want them to act and do the things we want them to do when we want them to do it. We think that means something. We think that means that the other person is worth our time and our efforts to build a relationship. We are trying to quantify emotions and justify our participation in the relationship. And God help the individual who cannot figure out and chooses not to give us what we want, because we will leave so quickly (and usually so viciously) that one would have to wonder if we ever loved them.
But I submit to you that a relationship is a commitment and not a trade off. We cannot go into relationships looking to emotionally barter for the things we want. We should go into the relationship because we want to share a life with that person and are committed to doing so. And if for some reason we decide that we no longer want that relationship, it is better to leave than to try to punish or manipulate that person into doing the things that make the commitment desirable for us. That is a perversion of commitment that results in romantic possession.
We live in an imperialistic society. America is all about aggression, competition, and domination. As individuals, we allow that mindset to saturate our thoughts about how to approach everything in life. Therefore, we go into relationship with a battle mentality — which wouldn’t be so bad if we chose the right enemy. The problem is instead of battling public opinion and social norms, we fight each other. We go into relationships determined to to create this ideal relationship that we have in mind and to get this person (who we may love and genuinely want to be with) to be what we think they should be — ofcourse this is dictated by our ideal relationship. And every now and then we will listen to the other person’s ideas about relationships and if they do not match ours we endeavor to convince, persuade, debate, and/0r force them to think about like we do or at least submit to doing it our way.
So, then, the commitment becomes not only about control but a battle for possession. We begin to use the relationship to possess the other person. We manufacture arguments and issues to shame and guilt our romantic partners into seeing things our way. We twist and reshape perceptions of events to prove the point that we were right all along and our romantic partner should have seen that long ago and we wouldn’t have the problems we have. In relationships no one owes us anything. What we do for our romantic partners and our relationships should be done because it pleases us to do it. Not because of something our partners do or something we expect them to do. That is a corruption of the relationship that commodifies the relationship and makes it a good to be disposed of when it stops working.
The problem is that we won’t accept that building a relationship is a process that is altogether different than anything else we might do in life. The relationship is at least 80% about commitment. It’s probably 10% about love and 10% about timing. As Americans we have grown to be some of the most spoiled, irresponsible, and lazy people on the planet. We, with our privilege and superiority complexes, think that nothing should be exceptionally hard and that we deserve the best of everything just because we do. Actually most everything really good is really hard. And that which we deserve is relative to something that we have done to earn it.
As great as we think we are (and sometimes we can be), someone else is great, too. If we could find a way to connect with one another in a way that isn’t about competing, dominating, and manipulating to get what we want, we might find ourselves able to develop meaningful relationships that hold a lifetime of value. It is no great secret why past generations had more successful marriages and partnerships — even the ones that weren’t love at first sight (i.e. arranged marriages). Those people honored commitment and they understood relationships.
Anyone who watches the show Scandal knows that President Grant is not at all in love with his wife (as he is in love with Olivia Pope) and it is questionable whether his wife is in love with him or simply using him for political gain; however, what she said in that scene was more poignant because of the lack of love/romance in their relationship. What she saying in other words is ‘we’re married/in a commitment and with or without the love, you should show up and be present in this relationship.’ That’s heavy because, she’s right. And by the end of the episode President Grant does show up for her and it is tender moment that speaks volumes. It shows us that love shouldn’t be the only inspiration to “do the right thing” or to show up and give effort to a relationship. So, then, I would imagine if we could get to that point of honor the commitment of our relationships unselfishly, without pretense, and regardless of love, then imagine what two people who are in love might accomplish.
Love and affection and all those right and wonderful things our romantic partners do make our efforts worthwhile and they give us a sense of satisfaction about the relationship, but, at the end of the day, they can’t be the motivation to do those things. We have to choose to do them and to choose to do them even when there is not immediate gratification. Love and relationships aren’t destinations at which we arrive, they’re evolving journeys that constantly require our attention and our commitment in order to get the rewards we desire. Perhaps the next time, we should, for the hell of it, commit without pretense and without judgment. I’d be willing to bet that even if the relationship doesn’t last forever, we would walk away much more enriched and with a lot less emotional baggage.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man