Remember When We Thought the Worst that Could Happen in a Relationship Was Cheating?


By Veronica Wells 

My friend of nearly twenty years was visiting me this past weekend. So naturally, we were reminiscing over our middle and high school years. As she was describing how our classmates’ lives had turned out, she said, “Remember when the worse thing we thought a man could do in a relationship was cheat on us?”

I responded, “Yeah girl. There were only two things. Cheating or hitting us.” 

I consider myself to have had a pretty good education about the things men do. With my own family history, honest relatives and a general distrust of most people, I thought I was prepared to avoid all the foolishness out there. I knew to bounce if a man made a habit of cheating on me or put his hands on me just once.

But what we didn’t know was that there was so much more that men could do, the things they would do, the things we would allow because we didn’t know better.

My friend has a helper complex. I call it her gift and her curse. She overextends herself for people--and more often than not they’ve been men she was in a relationship with. Men who did not reciprocate and disappeared once they’d gotten everything they came for.

I was in a years-long on-again, off-again elevated situationship where I was afraid to express any grievance because I knew it would result in a months-long, or year-long disappearance. I’d hear words like “I love you” or “I need you.” But whenever I asked for consistency or accountability, the response was the same, “You’re not my girlfriend.” Not to say that the treatment would have been any better if I’d been bestowed such a title.

We hadn’t been warned about men who had experienced so much emotional trauma that, despite their words and even some of their best intentions, they would never be able to show up for us.

We didn’t know anything about men who secretly and not-so-secretly hated women but kept them around for sex, status, or free therapy.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I came to the realization that there were levels to the way a woman could find herself disrespected in a relationship. And because it wasn’t as blatant as him hitting her or stepping out, so many of us failed to recognize that we were being played.

I think most of us eventually find our way. Still, for the sake of future generations, here are a few things we can do or say to prevent the young ladies who will come after us from suffering.

Share your stories honestly
I can say that I never had to deal with men who were controlling or physically abusive because there was a family history of that. And instead of shielding me from it, my grandmother, mother and aunts kept it real when I asked questions. My mother, if we were watching movies involving romantic situations, would always point out signs that pointed to abuse-- from small things like wanting to know where you were every minute of the day, to being overly possessive, to trying to dictate what a woman could and couldn’t wear.

Tell young men to be impeccable with their word
I was delighted to hear my mom tell my younger, male cousin that the best thing he could do in a relationship was be a man of his word. Don’t over-commit, don’t lie to temporarily save her feelings, don’t express feelings that aren’t true in order to get something and don’t say things that don’t match your actions.

Tell young women that they can’t save them 
So many women stay in relationships thinking that if they do or say the right thing, they’ll be able to get the man to live better, be better, or be better for her. Women are conditioned to be nurturers, to soothe, comfort. But there are times when that investment is not reciprocated. And most significant character and personality changes have to come from that individual. Young girls need to learn, “Don’t save him. He don’t want to be saved.”

What are some other ways we can prepare young women to navigate dating and avoid toxic relationships?
Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days” and the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag. You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.

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