for as long as i can remember, i’ve been a natural rebel.
if there was a rule, cultural or gender standard, i would usually unintentionally contradict it in some way. in elementary, i wanted to run on the boys track team because the girls were too slow for me, so i did. in high school, i was the person frantically writing essays an hour before they were due, only to see a proudly red-markered “A- Excellent Job!” beaming from the top of the page a few days later. the one who decided i was done with high school about five minutes after receiving the big blue envelope that marked my early admission to Spelman (the only school i applied for– a decision which counselors constantly scolded and warned me about for not having a Plan B) in December of my senior year. i went from ranking 3rd in my class to 10th because after that point, much of my supposed-to-be-in-class hours were spent out on the common lawn reading books i’d neglected to properly check out of the library.
for many years i lived by the “just jump” mentality, armed with a unending supply of optimism and the knowledge that the universe usually conspired for things to somehow work out in my favor (see: The Alchemist). later, people chose terms like ‘free spirit” to define what i hadn’t known was an unorthodox way of approaching life.
not least of all, relationships.
also not intentionally, i’ve been what some would call a serial monogamist. the perpetual girlfriend. the problem that arises when you are someone that lives by your own rules and doesn’t really give thought to what social conditioning or norms say you’re supposed to do, think, and act like though, is that this very thing that attracts men–that delirious enrapturing in the magic of you–is one of the first things they attempt to change.
it occurred to me after the third failed (years-long) girlfriend stint, that the “just jump” personality attracts a lot of parachutes– men wanting to save you from yourself; cushion what they think will be your inevitable fall. people with good intentions who feel they know what’s best for your life and for you as a woman, when all you really want is someone who believes you can both fly, together.
suddenly, the people you call friends are too loose, or too weird, or too plain male. your carefree, ‘don’t worry, be happy’ Kanye-shrug tendencies and ideologies are met with disapproving looks and exasperated talks about the need for before-hand discussions regarding any decision you make. your dreams are too lofty. you’re too free. you’re unconventional, unemotional, untraditional, untamed. what is wrong with you?
they attempt to harness. stifle. box. mold. change. suffocate. train. or engulf to the point where you are no longer recognizable to yourself, even in the most optimizing lens.
i began to look at relationships in stark shades of black and white: i could be me, fully, or i could be in a relationship. i could be single, or i could conform to the Stepford society and “land” a husband. i could be free mentally, or shackled emotionally. what i definitely knew was that i could not be an independent thinking, dream-seeking, altruistic free-spirit and also be in a normal, functional, healthy relationship.
mutually, exclusive. there was no coexisting. i tried, i failed. washed, rinsed, and repeated.
so, i made use of little black dresses, i flirted, i dated, i enjoyed the banter of tall, dark (and not so dark) and handsome conversations. firmly i held though, mind made that i would not trip and fall over a nice smile or smooth tongue and into another box of pregnant-and-barefoot-slaving-over-the-stove expectations.
and then, it happened. one day i looked up and found myself, despite the enormous hurdles of doubt and opposition he faced, once again holding the girlfriend flag. he had slipped in quietly, beneath the radar.
i rushed to the mirror upon this realization, afraid that my reflection would be reduced somehow; distorted. amazingly, what i saw was well, myself. a smiling, happy self i’d only previously seen glimpses of when wearing the G on my chest. i ran down the list, checked the usuals, the vitals, all seemed normal. stretched my arms out side to side, no cardboard barriers pressing against my palms. looked behind me, no reins tightly strapped to my shoulders. no strong arms pulling my legs back down to earth.
when i looked up, the sky was covered in grey. not the depressing gray that warns of thunderstorms or woeful days, but a glorious, muted silver, like the strands that bless a wise temple. a wonderfully merged grey made up of the previously stubborn blacks and whites of my life that had refused to peacefully coexist. a grey that welcomed both me, and the hand holding mine.
that grey space, without trying, has made me a believer. i now know that it is possible to cook for and not serve; to learn, and teach; to respect without bowing; to elevate someone without having to descend yourself; to be interdependent without the sacrifice of personal freedom.