Sunday, July 20, 2008

Feminism, Partners, and Relationships

So...my doctoral student relationship with Mr. just became an ABD relationship. Complete with complaints about uncertain job locations, long distance & long term travel, ambiguous time to degree timetables...the works. The results are not pretty.

The details, of course, are NUNYA. (For all the allies out there, NUNYA = None of Your Business)

Still, as I sat at my computer at almost 1 a.m., frustrated after another pointless conversation on African Diaspora, Ph.D. romance logistics, and tried to figure out who to call to purge, I realized I had a more interesting problem.

Who do I--radical woman of color aspiring academic in a long-term heterosexual relationship with a man of color--talk to about these things?

Let's break down the politics of identity and love for those unfamiliar.

I am Puerto Rican and black. Mr. is black. Which means I at least want to discuss this with someone else of color.

I am female. Which means, for the most, talking to dudes about the problems are out of the question. For the most part. (But we will put this on reserve)

I am in a long term relationship. Which means, I don't want to complain to many of my single friends who so often turn my cathartic scream fest into a session of Romance Olympics ("Oh, but at least you are with someone!", "I would love to be able to complain about a fight with my boyfriend", etc.). I also don't want to complain to those in my life who are so fiercely independent that they are anti- relationships, period. I am in this because I am happy and it works for me. And I want to build it, not automatically assume that a fight between us is the End. And even if it is I don't want to celebrate that.

I am a rwoc who is ambivalent about marriage (yes, the two are tied for me). Which means, I don't really want to complain to my married friends, many of whom are very invested in ideas of subservience and honor that are repugnant to me. Ideas like I should "work with him" or that I should be the one to meet him where he is, that I need to be able to bend, that "men are just like that," or I shouldn't have made him so mad, or I should see it from his side. Excuse me, vomit in my mouth. I can promise that very few of his male friends are telling him the same thing, bump whatever the Bible or the preacher said about love, honor and obey. And there is often an underlying dig in these conversations about how I am still unmarried (which somehow makes my relationship "unofficial" for them), which then leads to the complaint that I'm just a shrill, single female (which has its own underlying dig that "well, that's why you got in the fight in the first place--too independent")

I am a graduate student in a Ph.D. program. Which means I am facing relationship problems particular to those pursuing or part of the professoriate (and those in similar or related professions). I am a nomad. My job prospects are multiplicate and yet dependent on the call for applications. I could as easily end up in Omaha, Nebraska as New York City. My prospects change whether or not I get tenure--and whether I want to make that my home department or not. And there is no one-stop African diaspora archive or repository. Which means to even secure a decent job and/or tenure, I need to travel. For long periods of time. To far away places. (Hence the fight with Mr.) Even if I wanted to--ha!--I actually can't cook, clean house, do laundry, keep the light burning in a way that most hetero men seem to expect out of their significant others because most of my time will be spent researching, writing, thinking, planning seminars/syllabi, etc.

I am also young but not that young. Mid-20s is about the time when I am ready to stop being flagrant and be happy with one person for awhile. It is also about the time that all the images and ideas of society--that I'm getting old, fat, ugly, uncompetitive; that there are only so many "Do Right Black Men," that I'd better grab him and hang on to him no matter what right now or else he'll get on and leave my ass for a white girl--are starting to actually nibble at my consciousness. I can feel myself entering the period of my life where I have to actively resist these damaging representations. I do. And I hope to always do so. But not all 20-somethings are where I am at--more power to them--are ready to have a conversation about my fears and struggle with these images the same way I am.

So...

That's a lot to keep in play at any one time.

Who do you run to? Who do you call? Who gets you, all of you? Despite the identity soup I just cooked above, I still have a few people I can depend on. They mean the world to me. Who, in this context, means the world to you?

But this is also a cautionary tale. Do you fall into any of the above categories? If so, stop doing this stuff!

Sorry, not the point I wanted to make.

This is the point I want to make. As women--whether you are a rwoc or an ally, a lover of men, women, both, or pan--we need to do a better job of coming together and supporting each other in our relationships in a way that centers our mental and physical health as women. Instead of in a way that bolsters institutions (church, marriage) or the other partner (esp. when they are men of color) or that becomes a self-reflective pity party. Maybe this means doing a better job of separating our romantic relationships from our self-identity so that we can stand, empowered, on our own two feet and offer someone else the same faith, confidence, and strength. Maybe it means becoming more intuitive and responsive to what the myriad women in our lives need at their particular stage--catching them where they are, respecting all their sides, and being open.

Or maybe I just need better friends.

8 comments:

The Ink said...

Dang, yo.


Thats....deep.


I have been married/involved with my wife for almost 4 years now, and I realized a lil ways back that what makes our relationship work is that she balances me.

I always thought i needed someone who was as intellectually driven as I am.

While that appeals to my wants, my reality is that I need balance in my life. Having a brilliant woman who just happens to be more balanced in her intellectual temperment allows me to step back and breathe now and then.

This has nothing to do with your situation, although sometimes peas need carrots and not other peas to really taste good.

Kismet said...

Ink,

Your words are appreciated. I think/hope that all good relationships stay good because of balance. And I love hearing about the different ways that balance gets worked out; I love how creative we can be in our love lives of all kinds--friends and partners.

I wonder who she talks to when you're fighting though. :)

(A little unrelated, as I wrote this post, the song that kept running through my head was X-Scape, "Who Can I Run to", lol)

Lester Spence said...

is this why you don't share anymore?

i'd suggest something that i don't think you've considered.

a therapist. and couples therapist as well. the two of you aren't married, but it appears as if you aren't "going anywhere."

political, racial, and gender affinities are important. but also important here is PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE.

believe that.

T said...

"Mid-20s is... also about the time that all the images and ideas of society--that I'm getting old, fat, ugly, uncompetitive; that there are only so many "Do Right Black Men," that I'd better grab him and hang on to him no matter what right now or else he'll get on and leave my ass for a white girl--are starting to actually nibble at my consciousness."

Man, say that again. Put it on a button, a hat, a t-shirt, right under or next to Obama. I'll rock it!!!

I'm not sure how I missed this post. Life catching up to me... I guess. I feel you on so many levels here, and though our paths and goals are different (it's amazing that we exist in the same plane), I think we intersect well and as needed.

I need to check my incoming calls 'cause I'm almost sure you called me around this time. That said, I don't think I'm the "I wish I had someone to argue with" type. I'd like to apologize via blog if I ever said anything like that. I thoroughly enjoy being single (which is why I can't imagine saying an BS like that) and while it'd be nice to get that good good on a guarantee, I can't say that there's much else making me want to be boo-ed up right now.

I will say, that by looking to get advice from or have a sounding board in someone who is JUST like you, you're essentially looking for someone to co-sign what you're saying or worst yet, tell you you're right as opposed to someone to just hear you out. It's possible that when you talk to people, you've made up in your mind that you're going to view their comments from a certain window pane (be it single, married, non-academia, white or whatever). It's possible that their opinions are predictable, upsetting or even unusable because you've already labeled them and placed them in a self-fulfilling category. (It's also possible that they're just talking ish and you shouldn't call them anymore... I'm just sayin')

Last thing to note is that all people in all relationships have to compromise (family, work, romantic... hell... I compromise with the TSA at the airport all the darn time). When someone suggests you compromise see if you can used the advice based on their life experiences rather than based on what label they possess. You may be surprised (or it could be the same ol' BS... I'm just sayin')

T said...

Dang... I wrote a lot. Last thing, I agree with ol' boy about the therapist. They don't get paid enough to have an opinion. They'll probably just listen and decipher sense from nonsense.

ThummyB said...

Ok...1st of all OUCH! @ the last line of this post.

#2...I co-sign with a lot of what Tea said. You may find great support, wisdom, and point of view coming from places that you least expect. I understand getting tired of hearing opinions that are jaded by the person's position in life. However, there are times where the alternate position/POV can bring great insight. You may also just find that folks think very similarly to you than you would have expected in spite of how different their life is.

#3...Feel free to call me anytime day or night. At the very least I will make you laugh.

Kismet said...

Spence--

That is interesting that the solution you touch on is couples therapy. It makes me think that problems like this are more pervasive in the Profession (dun dun dun dunnnnn). Which immediately makes me jump to what long term solutions are in the works to make this not a problem. But in the short term, yes, indeed. Professional competence is crucial.

Tea and Thum :) -- all is love yall. Gracias mujeres.

Lester Spence said...

we should really talk some time. because you don't know the half of it....but i'm betting if you looked around you'd see it.

(and i suggested couples therapy because you both should work this out together if you want to be together. in the absence of that, you should still have a therapist/life coach/spiritual mentor with some skills....)