As some of you know I was once married (and quickly divorced) and that union was a hard one for me to get over. I love hard and fall hard, and when I fell, I fell into a mess of depression and cynicism. Some of that cynicism permeated through my fiction and other writing during those immediate years after my marriage.
In my novel, “Darla Went Down” (don’t ask where to get it, it’s not published or finished), the main character has to deal with her boss’ hostility towards her because her boss believes Darla thinks she is better than her simply because she is married. (But doesn’t realize that Darla is in a largely passionless marriage.)
The boss is a black woman, over 40, and never married, but successful. In all the news surrounding successful, unmarried black women I decided I wanted to share the monologue of one angry (but with a few valid points), Ms. Janet Hendrix. Re-reading the monologue is amazing to me because at one point I was as angry as Hendrix after my divorce and obviously, as I wrote this, this was more about my own frustrations than anything else. The whole monologue is essentially post-divorce me yelling at married me for giving up my dreams in exchange for false promises of marital bliss.
From “Darla Went Down,” by Danielle C. Belton, Janet Hendrix’s monologue
Even in today’s modern, progressive age all this, all this accomplishment means nothing unless you have a man. And that’s how you get to feel superior. That’s the one thing you have that I don’t. A husband. And no matter how bad you feel. No matter how depressed you get. No matter how hard I am on you, you can go home every night with the resolve that, ‘I am better than you because I have a man.’ And that’s why I don’t like you. That’s why I’ve never liked you. When I see you all I see is a waste.
Do you know what it means to me when a woman says she’s married? It means – ‘I quit. I tried being my own person and I failed. Think I’ll try being somebody else.’ Marriage is an ends to a means. Not a beginning. There’s a reason why all those fairytales and movies end with a wedding. Because there’s no more to say after that. No more adventure to have. No more possibility. Only stability and tolerance. Another step in that slow march to death. He doesn’t stop dreaming just because he gets married. His dreams get only bigger. It’s your dreams that get narrower and narrower until they mean nothing. Because once you’re married you have to work at it. There’s no time to work on you. You’re finished. You’re done. You quit. What matters now is the marriage. What matters now are his big dreams for the both of you.
I bet you never even thought about it. I bet you didn’t put one thought into it as you rushed to that shining alter. After all, doubt? That’s not romantic! Thinking about how this is the end. Oh no! This is the beginning. A great new future. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself. The worrying about fitting in and about your body and all your mommy and daddy issues? You’ve cured them because somebody loved you enough to humor you and marry you and make you whole. And how long does that good feeling last? One year? Two years? Then what? That’s when all the familiar signs start showing up. That’s when you don’t know if you can stand to listen to that same funny story one more time. When your libido turns to dust, if it ever really existed in the first place.
So you do what all women who marry do. You follow the script. Oh, you think you’ll do something novel and different. You think you’ve got it figured out. But society’s pull is too strong. You’ll be complaining about how he doesn’t listen or doesn’t lift a finger or how he’s from Mars and you’re from Venus and all that other cockamamie bullshit that’s shoved down our throats to save a bastard dying institution that doesn’t fucking work. Better pop out some babies. Be fruitful and multiply. Otherwise you gave it up for nothing. But of course when you have the kids, that’s the final nail in the coffin. There’s no going back after that because the minute the first one drops you’re a corpse. Your dreams are now your children’s dreams. And I know you’re thinking. That’s not how that’s supposed to sound in my head. That’s supposed to sound good. That’s supposed to sound comforting. Well, I got news for you. When you die, you don’t take it with you. And that means the kids. They’ll grow up and they’ll leave and you’ll be left with nothing but memories.
I know it’s supposed to be something that I’m supposed to want, but let’s suppose I never wanted it and realized that it didn’t have to be that way. I don’t want a baby. A baby’s a death sentence. A death sentence to my identity, to my sanity and to my waistline. I know why some animals kill their young. Because they’re trying to survive and the fucking bastards are slowing them down. Sucking the life out of you when you need that life to keep fighting to live another day. Every day it’s them or me and I choose me every time. I’m not willing to sacrifice my goals, my dreams for someone else. And anyone who thinks different is a fool.
And do you know what that makes me? Do you know what I am? I’m a man.
Do I still agree with what I wrote? No. I’m not nearly THAT horribly cynical anymore. But angry, post-divorce me in the form of Janet makes some valid points. In my desire and love for the fantasy of what I thought marriage was I rushed into a poorly thought out union with a man who was not ready for marriage any more than I was. I essentially settled because at 24 I didn’t know my own worth, had little dating experience and was convinced that it was better to have somebody love me than have no one love me at all. Boy was I ever wrong.
The end result was a bitterness that knew no bounds that lasted for a good two or three years as I worked to get over being burned. The only good thing about my bitterness was that I at least didn’t hold it against all men, let alone all black men. I was only angry at the one who broke my heart. All my anger and frustration began and ended with him, which I think was helpful when I finally started dating again. But I didn’t date while I was that angry because I was just dying to hurt someone as much as I’d been hurt and that would have been cruel to the innocent party.
So if you can get past the bitterness, I think the lesson here is that it, again, does not serve you well to panic in your pursuit of a spouse because you might end up with less than stellar results. You don’t want to compromise so much of yourself and negotiate away so much of who you are to the point that you’re left with nothing that resembles you. And this goes for both men and women. It’s easy to lose your identity in a coupling, especially if one partner is more dominant than the other. We have to maintain some portion of ourselves and have a partner who can accept that self, rather than compromise so much of who we are until we are blobs of nothingness.