The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

I’m 100% certain that my boy Rational Chaos is going to call me out for my “softness” in writing about this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Ugh. I feel disgusted with myself just typing that out. I kid – love is a beautiful thing. It’s also a complicated, messy painful affair that can leave you hurt, angry and disillusioned. Seeing love fail is a big part of why I considered myself to be disenchanted when I started this blog. That’s what a few years of college will do to you – I’ve seen so many relationships blossom with hope only to fall apart, like a cheap shoe after too many miles of New York pavement.  I’ve written before about how the “dating” system I’ve observed in college is completely nonsensical to me – this whole “hooking up” and “talking” business before going on an actual date is a bizarre inversion of how the rest of the world sees relationships. And more than that, the way that men and women talk about and relate to one another leaves me even more bemused. I’ve heard guys refer to women in terms of their bodies, their faces and how many positions they want to take them in, but rarely have I heard a man on my campus talk about how much they enjoy talking to a girl about politics, or how cute she looks when they say something dumb and she looks embarrassed for them or even something as simple as how beautiful she looks dressed up for an event. I don’t know if it’s the cynical atmosphere of the city or the age, how they interacted with women growing up or just plain old sexism – what I do know is that it’s fucking problematic.

Of course, not all men are this way. And there are, of course, plenty of women who discuss men (and themselves!) in similarly objectifying terms. And not male/female relations are about sex – there are many people on my campus who are in happy, well-rounded relationships.  I think what bothers me is that sex always seems to be so up-in-your-face whenever people think about relationships. It’s like my girl said to me:  “When it gets cold, people start looking for alternate ways to keep warm.” But apparently, not much else. The only real criterion for hopping into bed with someone seems to be a basic sexual attraction. Don’t get me wrong – sex is great. People should get it in as much as possible – in fact, I personally believe that if all of the disgruntled people in this world just got a quality session in the bed, we could solve global warming, the Iraq war and establish a global socialist utopia (just make it consensual, k?).  But when that’s all I’m supposed to think about when I’m attracted to a guy – if he’s just supposed to see me as ass, boobs and vagina – I have to pause and start rethinking some things.

A lot of people think that this sexual “looseness” and general fuckery can be traced back to the feminist movements of the 1960s: female sexual liberation supposedly made women believe that they could not only act like men, they could fuck like them too – which snowballed into men taking advantage of the exponential increase in available ass, thereby reducing its value and cheapening the relationships between men and women. Now obviously this is a gross oversimplification, as well as a romanticisation of the past, but there may be an element of truth in this. Do not get me wrong: me + women’s lib = love. That particular element of civil rights movements is the reason why I’m sitting in this godforsaken library at my university studiously ignoring my essays, instead of preparing dinner for my three kids and husband after spending the day cleaning the house and buying groceries (again, I kid). But damn, why does EVERYTHING have to be about sex?? And this bullshit about us being “equals” – an excuse for multiple sexual partners and “free love”? I AM NOT WITH IT.

Breathe.

I guess, when it boils down to it, I’m an old fashioned girl. I like dates. I like that tension of not being kissed when you expect it to happen. I love realising that I like someone despite the fact that the most intimate we’ve been is sitting next to each other at a meeting. And I hate that being at college means that the odds of finding a guy who feels the same way are slim-to-none.

But I’m an optimist. For one of my classes this semester, I read a novel called “The Home and the World” which was written by Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian intellectual and literary figure of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It’s about a love triangle, Indian nationalism and colonial rule, amongst other things (I won’t spoil it for y’all). I was in the middle of re-reading it to write a paper when I was stopped by this line right at the beginning – it’s from the main female character, Bimila: “My husband used to say, that man and wife are equal in love because of their equal claim on each other. I never argued the point with him, but my heart said that devotion never stands in the way of true equality; it only raises the level of the ground of meeting.” Now, this may not seem to have a lot to do with what I was just writing about, but let me explain. Bimila is living in Bengal, India in the early 20th century – not a spot where the women’s liberation movement had quite taken off. She lives in purdah (seclusion), meaning that she spends her days within the confines of her home. 21st century American college life is probably the polar opposite of her existence. But putting this aside, I was most struck by the way she sees herself as a woman in relation to her husband. She isn’t “submissive” in the traditional sense, nor is she sexualised or objectified by her husband who is determined that she emerge from purdah and enjoy the “real” world and all it has to offer. She loves him – not only because of his qualities and because of the way that he treats her as an equal, but also because she can express her love to him through being a woman, in a non-sexual manner. And he reciprocates the feeling from a similar standpoint. In the context I’m living in, that notion is a breath of fresh air. Love should be a well-rounded thing. Sex is important, but so is being able to talk to someone about big and small matters, doing little things for them like making them a meal, being able to sit quietly with each other and not need to say a word, or be concerned about what they’re thinking because in the end, nothing really matters at all. And on the side of men – never underestimate the power of complimenting a girl, meaning it, and expecting nothing (especially nothing sexual) in return.  Or of not texting her only after midnight. Or of surprising her with dessert, just because.

I haven’t figured out all of this relationship stuff yet. I am, however, realising more what I understand to be love and what I don’t. This is just a small articulation of the beauty I consider that thing to be – a mint-filled garden in the middle of a city of concrete: seemingly out of place, but all the more lovely for it.

P.S. In musical terms, this Erykah Badu song best articulates the way I feel about love and shit.

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To my strong, beautiful black brothers:

A few months ago, I met up with a few of my ignorant favourite African male friends for dinner, and our conversation wound its way from Kelis’ “golddigging” ways and Kenyan music to an ever-contentious subject: interracial dating. All except for one of them expressed the following sentiment: “I don’t see anything wrong with an African man dating a non-African woman, but I don’t like it when I see an African woman walking with a man who isn’t black.” Now I have heard countless claims about the saltiness of the average black woman and her feelings about seeing one of “OUR men” holding hands with a Becky, but the black man who takes a black woman dating a Dale personally  is a new phenomenon for me. Puzzled, I asked to clarify: “So, you guys see nothing wrong with a black man dating outside of his race, but you do see a problem with a black woman doing so?” Their response? “Yes.”

Now, my dear black brothers: you know that I love you more than anything else in this world except chocolate. Y’all raised me, taught me, love me and challenge me to do better all day, every day. But PAUSE: really though? You somehow think you’re justified in restricting my dating choices because you feel threatened? You know you’re fucked up for that. And that will lead to you someone getting cut.

 I asked a fellow Nigerian this question straight up and he simply shrugged and said, “I know it’s wrong, but life isn’t fair.” To him, it is a serious affront to black male pride to see a black woman walking with a man of a different race. But black female pride? Psssh. Irrelevant. I got the same sense of a lack of regard for black women’s feelings on the part of black men again when talking to a couple (again, Nigerian) male friends of mine. One of them was explaining that he broke up with his last girlfriend because he was tired of being in a long-distance relationship. Upon hearing this, the other one remarked, “Oh yeah I feel you – you know men have needs.” Again, PAUSE. Because women don’t??? What in the hell is going on, my African men?

Now, I understand that our life experiences may be very different. Many of you were raised in homes where your father’s word was bond, as the man of the house. Many of you grew up with women who allowed men to get away with some trifling ass behaviour because if society condoned it, who were they to argue back? And many of you are now enjoying life in the first world as students and workers with all of these golden opportunities open to you, including the option of dating outside of your race. And you know what? I’m totally cool with that being the context in which you came up and your embracing of that developed world freedom. Actually, just the last part. The first part is hella fucked up, did not fly when I was growing up and will NOT fly in my house when I’m married. But besides the point: I too, have had the opportunity to move abroad and be educated at an American university and meet people from all different backgrounds. And maybe back home you can feel like society gives you one up on me. But this is the land of the motherfucking free: I too, can date whomever, whenever and however I please. You have no kind of right or obligation to dictate to me who can take me out to dinner. You cannot get annoyed when you see me walking with Ahmed, Ravi or Lee Kwok. And you absolutely cannot expect me to treat you one way, yet treat me in a completely different manner.

Regarding my actual stance towards the phenomenon known as “the swirl”: the only real qualification I have regarding the men I date is that they feel me on that minority/third world/AK-47 toting militant tip. It’s not that I don’t find “Western” men attractive – it’s just when you start zoning out as I talk about pidgin English/oil money/my mother’s propensity to randomly cuss people out which I have definitely inherited, it’s pretty unlikely that it’s going to work out between us. Plus what if he makes some awkward comment about my “exotic” name or going on safari? This is why I love y’all, my African men – I know you feel me on that fresh banga soup with starch on the side, on my Wafi craze and my third-world politics. So how are you gonna get mad at me for wanting to be with someone I can relate to on that cous cous/Indian nationalism/tropical heat joint? As much as I love you guys, you’re not always checking for me. There’ve been too many times you’ve told me, “Oh, you’re so beautiful” yet left me hanging waiting for the “Do you want to have dinner sometime?” There’ve been too many times you’ve just wanted me for my body and none of the other wonders I have to offer. There’ve been too many times when you’ve straight up broken my heart and left me crushed. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on you – but it does mean I want to diversify my bonds and shit, same as you. I’m not holding you back from dating whichever Hannah, Arusha or Ming Su you want to be with, so why won’t you let me be?

Signed,

A loving but heated confused African woman

P.S. Title is from the flyest girl group of all time, En Vogue. 15 years later and they’re still fabulous.  Free your minds fellas, free your minds.

I came to the realisation that nothing lasts forever early in my young and disenchanted life. When I was eight, my dad casually dropped the fact that we were moving from Nigeria to the UK into conversation while we were on a family vacation. Aside from the massive culture shock I suffered moving from Africa to Europe, I also lost all of the friends that I’d made at my primary school (oh Corona V.I…). This, by the way, was back in the 90s, way before Facebook and Skype. The only way we could have kept in contact was through letter or phone, but the crappy Nigerian mail system and my parents’ iron grip on any means of communication (I can’t be mad, them international calls are hella expensive) pretty much wrote that off. Of course, I made friends at my new school, but I couldn’t help but remember the ones that I’d left behind in Nigeria – Ada, Ezinne, even Ugochi who threatened to fuck me up that one time ‘cos I called him stupid. I don’t remember feeling particularly cut up about the abrupt ending to those friendships – I guess maybe at that age, your emotional bounce-back muscles are pretty flexible. If only shit stayed the same when you get older…

I’ve lost a couple friends along the way through less outwardly dramatic ways than moving to another country. There are the twins from my secondary school who suddenly stopped speaking to me one day, which for some strange reason didn’t bother me much (may have been that I’d made one too many Coming to America jokes about their Jherri curl juice – no jokes, they had Jherri curls). There’s the girl with whom shit stays awkward ‘cos we share the same friends, but we’re no longer on the same page. And, of course, there are the men.

The end of a platonic friendship is always pretty bad, but a romantic relationship is always the worst. I mean, think about it: getting romantically involved with someone generally involves putting yourself in a vulnerable position emotionally. There’s all kinds of corny text messaging, hand-holding (bleugh) and heart-to-hearts that have you believing you and this other person might really have a connection. As much as I want to convince myself that I’m immune to this relationship stuff, I have to admit I’ve had my moments when I crave that happy coupled-up feeling. The last time I had this feeling, it didn’t last long. The guy involved, well… let’s just say he caught me at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. If I’d been my usual cool-calculated-and-perfectly-aligned self, maybe I wouldn’t have found myself agreeing to enter a relationship with someone I had previously just been acquaintances with. I soon realised that I needed to take a step back: me and the dude didn’t really know each other well enough for my commitment-shy self to be a quality girlfriend. And that’s where the problems began. I should probably explain that at this point, I wasn’t trying to end the relationship, but rather to slow things down and get my bearings. I didn’t think either of us knew each other well enough to place the label of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” on each other. Apparently that was equivalent to me saying that I wasn’t interested, and warranted being ignored in public and, I suppose, being “technically” being cheated on. What annoyed me was that every time I tried to bring up the situation, this dude would insist that he wanted to be with me, but then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks on end. And yes, I could have called, but he was the one who had initiated the relationship – I thought it only right that he ask my ass on a motherfucking date, especially as I had put in work to let him know I was more than willing to give us a shot.

If there’s one thing I learned about myself from this experience, it’s that I truly appreciate the value of honesty. I think too few people have the balls to say what they really feel in a relationship situation. If, for example, you’re not really into a person you should let them know early on, rather than lie to both them and yourself in an attempt to avoid an awkward situation. For fuck’s sake, LIFE is a big ball of awkward situations. At some point you’ll inevitably end up being walked in on while on the toilet, say something dumb on the internet or have to end a relationship with someone. It sucks when you have to be the “bad guy” (or the one hit with a faceful of eau de poo), but you just have to (wo)man up, take two and talk it out. In the situation I described, I ended up being the one who had to take the initiative to clarify where we stood with each other time and time again. Like Amy, I wanted to say “YOU should be stronger than me.” Shame, instead he was longer than frozen turkey.

In the end we decided that we would be “friends” – a little tricky to do if you’re not friends before things get complicated, but I got tired of talking after a while. I think the reason why I got so wound up about the situation to begin with is of my compulsion to never leave end loose. Maybe it’s a result of my nomadic existence, but I hate not being able to draw a line under something and be assured that it won’t pop up again in the future to bug me. If a relationship ends, I want it to be more or less permanently so. Those friendships that ended with my moving to England are the perfect example of that – it’s sad that I lost my childhood friends that way, but we all knew the deal, accepted it and moved on with our lives. Of course, there are certain relationships you can’t ever really get go of, the ones that change you fundamentally, the ones where your heart still skips a beat when you see their name somewhere, or their number on your caller-ID. This wasn’t one of them. My point is: I think when two people (or at least one) realise that whatever drew them together in the beginning has evaporated into thin air, it may be time to just let it go, and that the ending process should be as quick and painless as possible.

Or maybe that’s never possible unless you move to inner Mongolia. Let me know.

P.S. Title’s courtesy of the legendary Roots crew (who I’m seeing for the 4th time in concert next week :)).

As I’m an English major, I guess it can be taken for granted that I’m a fan of all things literary: plays, novels and – of course – poetry. A couple weeks ago I went to a spoken word performance by Jessica Care Moore which may have been the illest thing I’ve witnessed in a minute. Seriously, that chick is fire.

Anyways, I attended another poetry reading on my campus a few days later – this time, it was a guy reading. I have to give it to him: his poetry was pretty impressive. However, I was struck by the fact that every single one of his poems had him talking to a woman. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but some of his descriptions had me thinking, “Um, what’s extra hood?” For example, one poem compared his ideal woman’s nostrils to the Roman aqueducts, complete with bathing children frolicking in the streams of the snot life-bearing water which poured out from her. Yeah, anyway… I remember being told as a child by my English teacher that I lacked imagination. After I pulled a .45 on her I think what she meant to say was that I focused too much on “reality” rather than on the worlds that the mind could create. I won’t deny that I’m not much of a poetry-head – metaphors that encompass everything from the cosmos to termites and everything in between tend to be lost on me. I like the tangible, the rough around the edges, the things that I know and have experienced. I trust them more. That’s why I like Russian realist literature more than English metaphysical poetry. Escapism doesn’t appeal to me because there’s too much of the life right in front of me that I haven’t discovered yet for me to start wondering about what exists in another galaxy and whatnot.

Back to my point: this dude’s poetry – and the poetry of many other young black men – to me seems to build up a strangely unrealistic portrayal of the woman that they are speaking to or writing about. I love the fact that these men want to promote a positive image of the beautiful black goddess, especially as a woman who occasionally likes to fantasise that I could inspire a piece like “The Sun Rising.” Nonetheless, I feel scared as shit kind of intimidated by lines that invoke a woman whose back is an ageless baobab tree, whose curls are like the waves of the Sahara sands and whose eyes reflect the depths of the Nile. I mean, damn: I know I’m fly, but I’m not on that Maya Angelou/Nefertiti/Miriam Makeba tip yet. It’s funny because the dude actually read one poem that was an interesting departure from the rest. In it, he’s talking to a round-the-way girl with a weave in her hair, fake press-on nails and a quick-talking-bubble-gum-filled mouth. Not the most flattering description maybe, but that woman felt more real. I felt like I could identify with her more. I didn’t feel so egocentric imagining that the poem could be about me.

I brought up this topic with a guy and a chick that I know who both write, and they pointed out that they wrote their poetry with an unattainable ideal man/woman in mind. This totally makes sense – having some sort of Aphrodite/Apollo as inspiration – but this doesn’t mean that both men and women who write poetry or perform spoken word don’t use these epic descriptions to get more average-looking ass. And that irks me.

Look, I understand everyone needs a little head love. But that shouldn’t involve telling some Flava-Flav alike that you see your son’s smile in their smile. Because you don’t – what you really see is some crooked-ass teeth. AND you’re thinking about someone hotter, but because this person’s right in front of you, you’ll go for convenience over perfection. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but what I’m trying to say is that the dishonesty with which the poetic medium is used in the pursuit of hot sex on a platter kind of debases literature. This isn’t anything new – I’m pretty sure Shakespeare used his sonnets for seduction too. But the ways in which these spoken word artists spin lines to make these women (or men) feel special when it really isn’t about them… that’s just cold. I think that’s why I liked the poem about Shinequa (I’m not being facetious, that was the round-the-way girl’s name). It seemed to say “I see you and your flaws and your apparently ordinariness, and I love you for it, and I see past that Colour 4B Yaki to your unique beauty.” That to me means a lot more than being told about my aqueduct-esque nostrils and my thighs like the cosmos.

Maybe I’m missing the point of the poetry. I do like William Carlos Williams’ plainer style more than I do Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads. I’m not entirely sure what this says about my literary intellect, but I’m not too fussed about that. All I’m saying is: when it comes to love poetry, keep it real. Speak on it.

P.S. Dead Prez = amazing. Title is from “Mind Sex,” which is absolutely that bizness.