i’ve got a dirty little secret.
somewhere between the second glass of wine and the chocolate spoon cake i had last weekend, i decided to stop pretending. my closest friends have always known this, but it was always shared with an air of embarrassment on my part, hoping i wouldn’t be judged for not wanting to be a part of the clan. that maybe if i made this revelation too loudly, the very hinges of society would squeal and crack and chaos would ensue. i don’t want to be successful.
no Drake. but, the traditional sense of success, the degrees, the big job that affords a penthouse and two cars, one for sport, one for everyday driving, the serious titles… i don’t want none of that. the measure of being successful for me means something else. a warm, cozy home, the smell of pot roast and chocolate chip cookies wafting in the air, the smile of my husband as he walks through the door and takes me in his arms, after waiting all day to get back home to me and tell me about his meetings, me waiting all day just to listen and provide any type of support and insight i can. sounds stupid, right? i’m still a little ashamed to admit it. i just want to be a good wife.
back to this weekend, Tiffany and I had dinner with one of her parents’ friends from home. you probably know how married couples usually only hang with other married couples, and you can probably remember how it was when you were a kid, in the playroom with the other kids, while the dads were in the den watching sports loudly and the moms were in the kitchen gossiping over half-filled wine glasses or mugs of herbal tea (as was the case with my step-mother, who never touched alcohol). well, while visiting this couple who was a friend to her parents, we talked until the wife had to go work her nursing shift. as she left, she whispered to me to let her husband pay for dinner and i watched her kiss him goodbye, with the same loving look in their eyes as was in the 30th anniversary portrait on the small table behind them.
halfway through the ridiculously delicious and equally expensive dinner, i got to asking him how he met his wife and he told a story that i just don’t hear anymore, at least not from many in my generation. he met her in college, he was a fifth year senior, she a freshman. they dated for three years and got married. he got a job and she left school to move with him. three years after that, they started a family, and 30 years later she’s still insisting he pay for dinner. the wistful smile on his face told me that he didn’t regret a moment and that he couldn’t imagine his life any other way.
i sat on the other side of the table beaming, smiling to cover up the fact that i might never have that. i am 27 years old. at that age, they were already married with a daughter. what have i missed? the sacrifice.
i am reminded time and time again of just how proud everyone is of me. i did the whole going away to college thing and got my Bachelor’s in chemistry from a good school, i had job experience in my field, was accepted to one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world, and just passed my Master’s exam. but that was never my plan. and, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, i’m not yet proud of myself. my plan was, at this age, to be married at thinking of having a child, more on that another time, that way, by the time my high school reunion rolled around, i’d be settled and glowingly pregnant. as a kid, i never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer; i wanted to be a good wife.
but, none of that ever happened. and i never even came close. i thought i had found the man of my dreams, but that thin façade shattered and i was left with making decisions to kill time. oh, i don’t have a serious boyfriend, so i’ll get my own apartment. oh, i’m not even close to being engaged, i guess i’ll move to Bmore and just get my graduate degree. and, if he comes along, i’ll happily cross that bridge when i get to it. i can get married and stay in school, but if i had to move to be with him, without a doubt…
i’m sure someone reading this will think of it as the saddest piece of drivel ever written, and that i am trite and should be mortified. don’t worry about it, i used feel that way. i am haunted by the words “strong, independent Black woman” and how i have to have my own. but having my own goes against my wanting someone to share it with. sure, i can bake all the cookies, but if there ain’t no one to eat them with me… what’s the point?? and let’s not keep tally of all the cookie baking i’ve referenced, m’kay?
my mother drilled into me that i should never rely on a man for things in life, that i should put myself in a position to provide for myself. but what if that thirst to always provide for myself impedes any possibility for someone to share the load and the journey? no one should have to do everything by themselves. i never got that same message from my gramma. she raised six kids, including my momma, on her own after her husband died. she was strong because she had to be, because that’s what happens when life deals you a certain hand. the strong Black woman is always inside of you, so there is never a reason to parade it for fear of kowtowing to an antiquated societal paradigm.
there has been a shift, where now the sacrifice is the status. and now the status lies in the job you have and the ends you bring home. to an empty, but large condo in the city. “i don’t think i’m ready to sacrifice my dreams for a relationship. it’s okay for me to be selfish right now.” i should never quote Twitter, but that particular sentiment is ubiquitous amongst those of my generation, so it seems fitting. selfish. no love, no sharing, no community. i was never taught to be selfish, so maybe my need to give sets me apart from my peers, but i don’t fundamentally believe that. i wonder… just how authentic that attitude actually is. how many of us truly believe that to sacrifice love is more detrimental than to sacrifice to love.
at the end of the dinner and this conversation, Tiffany’s father’s friend paid for dinner, held open ours doors, and vowed to have this talk with his own daughter, who was just about our age. she, too, is in grad school. she, too, is extremely driven. i wonder if she, too, feels as if she is missing something.