I used to believe that getting married and becoming “some man's wife” was the ultimate betrayal of my feminism. I admit, I was a bit misguided and jaded in my teens and twenties. I think my own experience witnessing the failed marriage of my parents and the old school style of coupling between my grandparents, led me to believe that women never found wholeness or freedom when joined matrimoniously. I witnessed what I had interpreted to be, generations of women withering in the shadows of their husbands, Bibles in hands to reassure them that their female ego was wrong. I saw marriage as this parasitic symbiotic agreement between the host and her husband. But somehow at twenty-three I found myself newly wed and confused about how the process worked. I had betrayed myself and all the feminists I respected so highly. So when my marriage didn’t work out, I can’t say I was all that surprised or upset.
This is a love story set to the soundtrack of “Lemonade”. As I watched Beyoncé's movie for the 100th time, I witnessed the story of my own marriage unfold before me. It was all crystal clear, and the events that led me back to my husband made me realize I was not alone in my conclusion.
Pray You Catch Me / Hold Up
Miscommunication led to arguments. Arguments led to paranoia. Paranoia led to distrust. Distrust led to insanity. Alas, through years of struggle, creating a family, and failed attempts to reconcile our differences, I had come to a place of dissatisfaction and rage. It was time for me to stop fighting and leave my husband.
Don't Hurt Yourself / Sorry
Moving out of my home with three children under four was not a point of fear for me. In fact, I was relieved I was right all along about men, about the institution of marriage, about my strength. My moving out was my moment of freedom and self assurance. I could now be the strong feminist I knew I was, a single-mother martyr, a good example for my daughters, a magical unicorn to my friends... No longer his wife, I felt whole again.
I lived the days of our separation in the unrelenting quest to better myself. I went to grad school; I went to counseling; I started a new job; I prayed and meditated; I took to online dating; I focused on improving my parenting style... Growth. My mind was like an uninhibited vine. I was absorbing the world through the lens of an adult. Who was I even? Who did I want my daughters to see me as? What do I want for them? That mantra kept me focused. The adrenaline of survival and pride kept food on the table and children happy. But somehow I still felt an emptiness that could not be distracted by lots of work.
My husband continued being a good father. He was dedicated and vigilant about cooking meals for the kids and having them stay over at his place on the weekends. Both of us did not have good fatherly examples growing up and therefore we had a skewed view on what dads actually contributed other than disappointment. No matter how I felt about my husband, I refused to separate him from his girls. During our separation I witnessed him grow as a father. We were committed to family outings, family meals, and fun family activities. I was asked how I could do this, but for me, putting our daughters first was a no brainer. They deserved better. My husband is a good father. I couldn't have picked a better man.
There came a point when I began to miss my husband. I fought against it but I couldn't understand how two beautiful black people couldn't raise a family together while in love. Was a good marriage impossible if you have kids? It seemed like our separation allowed us to date. So we did. We went on dates and sent funny texts. We hung out. Being together-not together was fine, but something was missing. Why can’t this work?
Christmas 2015 my husband moved back in. I felt stupid. My announcement was met with various levels of dry excitement from my daughters. They had become accustomed to our lioness den and were very much aware of how the dynamic would possibly change. Was I really doing this again? What if it doesn’t work? Am I letting the girls down? Do they still respect their mother? I continued to grapple with the choice to try again and all the effort it takes to move out again when it fails. Was I giving us a real chance? Had I ever given us a chance?
Being completely open and vulnerable to your lover is the obstacle that keeps many of us from beautifully intertwining our souls with another. Marriage is challenging. Pain and fear relinquished, I decided to take the plunge. I felt at this point we'd already experienced some pretty low points and I knew I had the strength to leave, but did I have the strength to fight, to succeed, to heal our scars together, to support each other?
Freedom / All Night
It's taken me several months to talk about how my husband and I got back together. Maybe I am still uncertain if this will work or not. Maybe I am afraid of losing my physical freedom in pursuit of a collaborative journey. Maybe I am living in fear of being rejected as a feminist for taking my husband back. Love, like forgiveness, starts within and then moves without. No amount of shame will prevent me from at least trying to see him for who he is capable of being… what we are capable of being.
I struggled to understand that an empowered woman living life on her terms and making choices for herself is actually the most feminist statement any woman could ever make. Leaving him or committing your time to making it work are equally commendable in my eyes. There are no perfect scenarios, no either ors, no right or wrong ways to go about it all. For generations, women have been playing the cards they’ve been dealt with fewer rights and freedoms. This generational legacy of strength is greater than my perceived idea of feminist choices. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe those women with Bibles weren't withering in their husbands’ shadows, maybe they were guiding him to the light of love... The best way they knew how.
My oldest daughter never wants to get married and barely wants to have kids of her own. I see so much of me in her declaration, but I want to break that cycle. I want her to find an uninfluenced freedom on her terms, in deep love within and without. A freedom I had to heal in order to pursue. As a result of “Lemonade” sitting on repeat in our home, she asked me what Beyoncé meant by naming her album “Lemonade”. So I said the “if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade” saying. My daughter then says to me, “I guess that means you can make any sour situation into a sweet one… kind of like how you and dad are trying to make it better. But I wouldn’t say it’s lemonade yet”. It’s not. I’m striving for a healthy, loving union. Each day we stay together is our chance at making our own lemonade.
None of these images are mine...