What I Learned When I Finally Stopped Paying My "Girlfriend Dues"

by Ariel C. Williams

Growing up, I had a first-hand example of what “the good wife” should be: one who often holds her tongue for the sake of a peaceful home, and who’s strong during the toughest times, all while keeping the house clean and bellies full. My mother was a woman who learned to be the ideal wife, a true ride or die, by doing whatever it took to keep her man happy. There were times when I didn’t agree with all I’d seen, but that never took away its magic, making me want to do the same things when love found me. With all the observing that I did, I missed the most important part of how this all works—and that’s being in a relationship with a man who’s deserving of the effort. Because without that, being the only giver in a take-take situation is bound to make you mentally and emotionally drained. And that was my fate.

By the time I reached my early 20’s, I found myself in a relationship that depleted me of my true identity and existence. My nose was wide open as I pictured my life with this mega-tall, dark chocolate, comedic, and handsome country man who seemed to ease all of my worries with a forehead kiss and a tight hug. And these were the very things that made me turn my head to the red flags when they were waved. Thinking it was my duty to pay my “girlfriend dues,” I became accustomed to late nights with no warning phone calls, him expressing lust instead of love, and having my appearance – freshly chopped natural hair and casual work attire – questioned. I expected to be adorned in the same love and loyalty that I gave. What I’d allowed, though, was a man to dictate the way I viewed myself all because I wanted to keep him happy.
The changes subtly trickled in, starting with him making references to beautiful women who looked nothing like me. Then phone calls about multiple girls with his friends, and him breaking his neck to stare at them in public when he thought that I wasn’t looking. Most men have a type and what consistently grabbed his attention just wasn’t me or my body. This fostered insecurity, a lack of confidence, anger, and depression. Remembering how my mother seemed to always take one for the team, I did whatever I thought was right to appease him – changing my hair, spending less time with my friends, sexual spontaneity, and other subtleties in between, because this is what I thought a woman should do for her man. I put my feelings on hold to ensure that someone else’s didn’t get hurt, so they’d feel important, so they’d stay in the unhappy environment that we refused to change.

When I’d gather the courage to ask the hard relationship questions, I learned how uncomfortable it was to not only express myself, but how much he hated having The Talk. Eventually, I stopped asking him questions and began to question what in hell was wrong with me, a once vibrant 20-something with dreams and visions, and why I chose to sit there.

Why do women put their hearts and logic on the line for the sake of love and companionship? Why do we allow people and things that we know aren’t good for us in our lives? Why do we crave someone who doesn’t want to really be there in the first place?

These were questions I asked myself and the young women around me who were in a toxic relationships, or who’d gotten out of one by the skins of their teeth. In a heart to heart with a friend, she said, with tears in her eyes, that she stayed in a bad relationship because in addition to loving him, she thought she could change him. While our situations differed, our reasons for being so open were the same: misguided expectations of love. That moment allowed for me to see myself in another woman and ultimately choose a life where no one determined my happiness for me but me. I realized that womanhood creates resiliency and that I had to love me so damn hard that it wouldn’t matter if someone else did.

In an article addressing the reasons women stay in bad relationships, licensed psychologist Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. says that, “the most common answer I get when I ask women why they stay in bad relationships is 'because I love him.'” She later writes that, “Love isn’t always rational, it’s true. There’s no accounting for chemistry. But the fact is that love, especially one-sided love, isn’t enough to sustain a relationship.”

I agree with her. Realizing I deserved more, I listened to the part of my heart that needed me and ignored the part that desired him and ended our long term relationship. The right words to use weren’t there, but he could see it in my eyes that I could no longer sacrifice loving me for loving him. And for the first time during the relationship, he had my back and let me go.

I now know that empty people cannot love others. For the first time, I held myself accountable for being that once dangerously empty person who’d reach for the first warm hug a male would extend. Regardless of how I was raised, realizing that I was in control of the kind of woman or girlfriend or wife I chose to be was groundbreaking. Because even though my mother did Super Woman so well, her responsibilities weren’t for me and now I know that’s OK.

Photo Credit: Shuttertock

Ariel C. Williams is a writer and the author of The Girl Talk Chronicles. She writes about girl talk, self-love and innovation on her blog, www.arielsaysnow.com, and is known as @ArielSaysNow.

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