Once, I was really pathetic. And I was single. And I thought the two were connected. I admit it.
I focused a lot on my pain back in the day, and I attracted not-very-nice men who were looking for a pathetic woman, because a pathetic woman is a weak woman who will put up with anything. These men weren’t very good-looking guys—except for a couple of fine exceptions—and somehow, they simultaneously lifted me up during my whiny “poor me” episodes, and then, just when I was starting to get out of that low space, they would push me back down, either literally—aka with their fists—or with words.
But there were some good, platonic friends that I made. All of them were aware of how pathetic I thought I was, but they told me all the time that I was great and I could do better, in life and in romance. I was smart, beautiful, talented, and better than I thought I was. I could do more than survive. I could thrive.
Things went along that way, through my adolescence, into my twenties, and then, I hit my thirties and something strange happened: I started praying and I started writing, simultaneously. And I started making it out of Pathetic Land. I was still single, but I didn’t care that much anymore.
Okay, let me keep it real. I didn’t care about not being in a relationship, but I did care that I was celibate ninety percent of the time. I ain’t gone lie to you. I was about to pop for a lot of years. Trust.
But my spiritual life deepened and that fed my writing life. I started gaining self-confidence. It didn’t matter to me how pretty I was (or wasn’t), that I was overweight, that I had fibroids the size of Mount Everest, that I was a social hermit—I was smart and I was talented and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. I could see it for myself. No, I wasn’t the healthiest in body, but in spirit, I started healing.
And then, I traveled to Africa to do research on the current book of poetry I’m writing. While there, I met a really cute, sweet guy who spoke three languages—including French!—we fell deeply in love and six months later we got married. And I finally wasn’t celibate anymore.
Sidebar: Right after New Year’s, did y’all hear something that sounded like Loud Sanctified Holy Ghost Shouting all the way up to the Heavens? That was me, when I finally got me some. I ain’t shame to admit it, though that is the last time I will talk in specific terms about my marital business on this blog. Just so you know.
Anyway, about eighteen months ago, before I even met my guy, I had started working on my health, and I continued through our courtship and our first few weeks of marriage. (We haven’t been married long). As of this writing, I’ve been a vegan for forty-six days and I’ve lost fifteen pounds. I do miss cheese, but I just sort of white-knuckle through that.
I can hear y’all thinking right now, “Ok, Honorée, that’s a pretty fabulous ‘I been changed for the better’ story, but in the words of Ike Turner, what the problem is?”
I’ll tell you what the problem is. It has started settling down on me, bit by bit, that people have looked at my marriage as the culmination of all my hard work on myself. That’s right. I did all this, I made it out of Pathetic Land, just so I could get me a man.
Some folks have expressed that view by telling me that my engagement and then my marriage were “a healing.” As if I wasn’t healing all by myself with the help of a good and mighty God.
Other folks have thrown shade on my choice of a mate. There were nasty, hurtful comments about his dark skin color; “ugly” Africans; whether he wore deodorant; the fact that he was a Muslim and not a Christian; and whether he had sought me out to “get a green card.” There were admonitions about how “pushy” African men were, and how they didn’t “play that.”
Sidebar: What is exactly is the “that” that African men don’t “play”? Would it be the same “that” that regular Black, White, and Other American men on this side of the Atlantic don’t play? Because y’all do know that you ain’t got to travel overseas to meet a crazy, sexist man, or to get made a fool out of by one, right? You can walk right outside your house, around the corner to the 7-11, and meet one of them crazy men in, like, nine and three-quarters minutes. You don’t need no passport.
Oddly, I felt way more loved and nurtured by some folks when I was a hot buttered mess, when I wasn’t getting any sex or love (or both), when my uterus was sticking out to Idaho from that nineteen pound fibroid I had—yes, it really was that large; that is no exaggeration—and when I was a leather-wearing, red meat-eater who was making twice-weekly, binging drive-bys at the Sonics, much to the chagrin of my doctor, who had been trying to get my cholesterol down for a year.
Then, there are my personal favorites: the folks who are expecting me to morph into the commonly held view of a wife, now that I am married. The Woman Who Has Finally Gotten In Patriarchal Line Now That She Has Jumped The Broom And Gotten Some Good D-Word.
Sidebar: I’ve even had some folks say to me–days after my marriage– “Are you and your husband planning to adopt?” And when I say, “No, we aren’t,” they have responded, “But doesn’t he want children?” The implication is that I am selfish and that I should change my mind about wanting children and that would make me a real woman. That I should consider what my husband wants. That I should make that sacrifice for him.
But it is a reasonable expectation for me to think that my husband would take me exactly where I am physically and emotionally, since I took him exactly where he was. And I made a sacrifice for love when I married: I entered into what I always have considered a woman-hostile, patriarchal institution because of my husband’s religious convictions. It was never an option that we live together instead of marrying. That would have been a sin to my husband, and so, I compromised and got married because I knew that I wanted to be with this man for the rest of my life. And maybe—just maybe—he thought the same thing about the woman he fell in love with, whether or not she wanted to raise children?
I know. Crazy, right?
Back when I was pathetic, I used to encounter women in real life or online who expressed to me how hard it is to take time for themselves, to exercise, to eat right, to work on their artistic projects. I would hear phrases like, “Oh, if you were married, if you had kids, you would know how hard it is.”
I assumed they were right. That because these women had children and husbands (or partners), they had it harder than I did. I dismissed my own issues of taking my own time for my health and for my emotional well-being and I didn’t celebrate the hard work that I did for my own life, because as a single woman, I saw myself as a woman with no importance in her life. Or hardship in her life.
Certainly, I know that any time another person is added to a dynamic, the dynamic is changed. I am not arrogant enough to think that, a woman with children has just as much time as I do. But, neither am I lazing around my house, picking my toenails, either. I write a new book every two years. (Now whether that book is published is another story.) It is ironic that only now, when I am married, can I see how I privately dismissed the profundity of my own experience, and that privately, I dismissed my work as a writer as “easy”, a
s loudly as I proclaimed otherwise in public.
I still have some very good friends. Let me make that clear. But sadly, I have had to let some folks go, “sympathetic” folks from the time before who had an explanation of why I was pathetic, and much of it boiled down to my being single.
Indeed, before I met the man who would be my husband, I was lonely, a lot. I had whittled my life down to the bone socially. But what a lot of people didn’t understand, and what I didn’t understand myself, was that what I took away from my life socially, I put into my writing career, my spirituality, and myself. I needed that time. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a life. It was that I had a different life. I still have that different life. My husband likes to watch soccer; I like to write in a room with the door closed. And he’s good with that. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t have married him. I just wasn’t that desperate, believe it or not.
Right now, I’m in a place of change and struggle. I’m not going to say that marriage is not a challenge. It is. But I am going to say that part of the struggle and challenge is to learn how to include someone else in my life full-time, without giving up my principles. I didn’t have these principles because I couldn’t get a man. I had them–and still have them–because they are right and they make me happy.
I look back and see that many of my problems stemmed from my being a mess. But many stemmed from my own inability to embrace my difference from other people. I was getting in my own way. Maybe I was so pathetic because I thought I was pathetic? Could it really have been that easy—change my thinking and thus, change my life?
I try not to get upset over those lost years, though, because the journey made me the woman I am today. And I like that woman very much. In fact, I love her, and whatever my marriage status, I’m always in a lifelong committed relationship with Honorée Jeffers. Till death do us part.
And no, I didn’t change my name, in case you were wondering.