Once I got settled into my new crib following the dissolution of my marriage, one of the first things I did was set up my “divorce gift” to myself: an appointment to get a tattoo inspired by Swiss painter H.R. Giger on my right inner forearm.
Outside of sucking up the last real estate I had left on either arm, the tattoo was symbolic as a representation of my newfound freedom: Despite the fact that I had plenty when we met, she always viewed ink as a general waste of money; I’d meekly told her that I was thinking about getting the piece and that I would spend a year convincing her to “allow” it, as if I were a teenager trying to convince his parents to let him attend a house party with his friends (No girls will be there, mom, I promise!!!). Sure enough, she said, “You don’t need any more tattoos.”
That five-and-a-half-year relationship and marriage was loaded with many bright points, and I don’t for a moment regret any of it. But it sucks that, when reflecting on it in hindsight, I can’t see past the possessiveness and control that jaundiced the relationship from the beginning and ultimately helped bring it to an end. What seemed like freedom on the surface was hindered by my need to stifle certain relationships and aspects of my self-expression in the interest of keeping a woman I love happy.
As my marriage lay moribund and the ink on my new lease was still drying, I explained to my core crew over margaritas that I felt like a dog connected to a leash trying to chase after a squirrel across the yard – I couldn’t fucking wait to be let loose.
Two and a half-plus years after the breakup, that feeling is increasingly distant: I’ve created a single life for myself that’s admittedly steeped in selfishness and insouciance, free of the trappings of children, animals and the need to close the door whilst firing off a deuce in my one-bedroom Chicago apartment. I do what I want, talk to whomever I want and go where I damn well please – making sure I keep my TSA Known Traveler Number close by at all times.
I believe most of us carry baggage from previous relationships that helps to inform us for future ones – my biggest suitcase is that I’d rather wither away and die a crusty, lonely old bastard before I ever again acquiesce to a relationship in which I paint myself into the corner of someone else’s room.
Oddly enough, I’m a generally obedient partner: If she asks me to run to the store or go down to get the laundry, I’m gonna peel my comfortable ass from the couch and hop to without complaint. If she goes through the trouble of cooking dinner, she won’t clean one dish when it’s done. I’ve always been trash when it comes to putting my drink on a coaster, so if my woman fusses at me about that, I get it.
It’s the non-garden-variety control shit that I can’t deal with – that which should’ve given me pause shortly after I started dating my would-be wife when I was in my late 20s and too naïve to predict the long-term consequences (as is the case with most 20-somethings). There was that time we were sitting in her living room watching TV and she blew her motherfuckin’ top when my friend Nicole, whom she knew about, sent me some innocuous “what up?” texts. There was also the issue of her not wanting me to write erotic fiction anymore, in large part because she didn’t respect it (she pointed to a Dostoevsky tome in her bookcase, like “Fam, this is a real book…why the fuck can’t you write that?!?”)
I ultimately cut off Nicole to appease her, and I stopped writing the erotica because, again, I was a stupid 20-something in love. In both cases, resentment built slowly over time…I was a grown-up who allowed someone to tell me who I can’t interact with, and, even worse, what I wasn’t allowed to write. Like, I do this shit for a living. When the marriage ended and I was let off that chain to chase the squirrel, I reconnected with Nicole and others I had to cut off with the requisite mea culpas, and I hopped right back to the erotica like I never left. In fact, I use it as a litmus when meeting new women: if they have a problem with my dirty stories, I’m on the first train smoking the fuck away from her.
I think we’re long overdue for a cultural re-examination of relationships as a means of possession in our society. I think black and brown people in particular take some degree of perverse pride in controlling their partners and loudly expressing what they won’t allow their bae to do. Feeling like you have jurisdiction on how short your girl’s skirt should be in public or what members of the vagina-possessing human race your man is allowed to talk to is nothing short of patriarchy’s boot on all of our necks.
Of course, every relationship, by definition, requires a set of mutually agreed-upon parameters. For example, I wouldn’t want anyone I live with leaving our crib for days and not checking in, lest I think a nigga got kidnapped. But “No, you can’t go here or there” crosses into I’m-your-parent-and-I’ll-take-off-my-belt territory.
We also need to trash the idea that interacting with members of the opposite sex is a bee-line toward infidelity, as if we’re all one conversation with a pretty woman or handsome dude away from breaking our partners’ hearts. Even fucking stupider is the idea that people can’t have platonic friends of the opposite sex. A woman I once really liked told me this with a straight face and my mind-boner went softer than a roll of Charmin. I’ve never cheated on a significant other in a defined relationship, so I would truly need my partner to leave me the fuck alone and respect my movements in this regard.
I know it’s doable because I’ve always done it: I didn’t care when my college sweetheart had her guy friend from Milwaukee come in town and crash in her extra room because I trusted her. I didn’t concern myself when my ex-wife had long phone discussions with her college sweetheart who was married with kids. In fact, I liked him and he was always welcome in our marital crib. I would not have been allowed the equivalent in my marriage.
I also have several female friends whom I’ve never even kissed and with whom I can spend time behind closed doors free of sexual tension. I wouldn’t hide these relationships from a partner, but I also wouldn’t have my woman third-wheeling everything we do because a woman is involved. Picture me ever again being that castrated nigga who tells someone, “I’m sorry…my girl says we can’t hang out anymore.”
I’m sure the “conventional” among you consider me stupid for daring to open myself up to the possibility of two people who once exchanged genital fluids to suddenly “recapture the magic,” as if fucking somehow creates an indelible bond between two people that’s only severed when someone dies. But I’m a secure dude who can find a million things I’d rather do than police my partner’s every interaction. Besides, if someone’s going to cheat on me, they’ll find a way regardless of how closely I monitor them.
My mama, who was likely more privy to the darkest parts of my marriage than any other third party, told me just this weekend, “You can’t be with someone who is all up in your shit.” I think this is the case for far more people than actually allow it. I hope that you have the foresight to keep out of a union like this – you’ll be better off for it, and divorce lawyers are expensive as shit.