I was home alone when the Lemonade album premiered on HBO. My wife was out of the country on a work trip and I was browsing for something to watch on television. I remember thinking that I’d watch a little of it, find something else. But I was caught the moment I heard Warsan Shire‘s poetry. I was, as the kids say, shook.
Before I write further, a disclaimer. I am an individual who barely understands his own privilege as a man, as a white hetero man in a world where being anything else comes at a disadvantage, and since I understand at least that much, I’m not going to pontificate about matters that I have no business speaking to.
But there are things I can and want to talk about, and I am going to talk about those things.
I tried to make a home out of you, but doors lead to trap doors, a stairway leads to nothing. Unknown women wander the hallways at night. Where do you go when you go quiet?
You remind me of my father, a magician … able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding?
The past and the future merge to meet us here. What luck. What a fucking curse.
Growing up in the Midwest, I was never aware that a lot of the ideas around masculinity I was being given was toxic. That men keep their feelings buried in the pit of their stomachs. That we don’t confess them. That confession is a weakness. I never saw these things as a problem, so I never thought through the fallout of these beliefs or how these beliefs can lead to treating women in my life with something less than equal respect.
I wrote a novel articulating all of this in a primitive fashion when I was younger. But what I didn’t understand then and am just beginning to now, is what we owe to each other as humans. What does honoring our relationship contract look like? Let’s be clear, this is more than just marriage. This concept is broader and applies to everyone. What do you owe to the person or people you’re with? What happens when you break it?
Lemonade was a spark that lit my mind on fire. I had never understood, not really, what dishonoring a relationship contract felt like. In Beyoncé’s music and Warsan’s poetry, I found myself breaking like she was breaking. I understood her sadness, her anger, and ultimately, the depth of grace we can choose to demonstrate with forgiveness. I thought back to the girlfriend I cheated on in college. I thought of my parent’s marriage falling apart (not once, but twice). I thought of my father cheating on my stepmother. I thought of the women whose emotions (and love) I disregarded with barbaric disdain.
I thought of my wife.
He bathes me until I forget their names and faces. I ask him to look me in the eye when I come home. Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you. But you are the love of my life. You are the love of my life. You are the love of my life.Warsan Shire
Therapy can be maddening. It’s like going to a doctor who notices, for the first time, all the wounds you carry that have been festering for 30 years. And they look you in the eye and explain that in order for things to heal, we first have to open all of those wounds and scrape out the infestation. It’s not pleasant. Or joyful. I find myself exhausted and raw and seeking comfort.
But the truth of the matter is that I am complete shit at carrying my weight in emotional labor. And part of the reasons this is hard is because I’ve never exercised these proverbial muscles before. Fuck. I haven’t written steady poetry since I was 25 (which used to be my path forward), so I’ve confronted nothing in about 14 years. I’ve come to realize that honoring my relationship contract with my wife requires me to truly understand what I owe her, and this is something to which I owe years of back payments. It means that I need to ask for help. It means that I need confession. To crawl out from inside my head and admit my weaknesses.
This is very counterintuitive.
So what are you gonna say at my funeral, now that you’ve killed me? Here lies the body of the love of my life, whose heart I broke without a gun to my head. Here lies the mother of my children, both living and dead. Rest in peace, my true love, who I took for granted. Most bomb pussy who, because of me, sleep evaded. Her god listening. Her heaven will be a love without betrayal. Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks.Warsan Shire
So what is it that you owe to the person or people that you love? This is hard question for a lot of men to answer, it’s uncomfortable to think about. There is misogyny there, because as hetero men, we tend to focus on what the people in (and outside) our lives owe us.
In the absence of my Christian upbringing, I’ve been forced to consider what might be the morality I choose to live by. And the most articulate of my budding beliefs is that I should be acutely aware of the pain I choose to put in the world. Breaking my relationship contract, in any way, would have a ripple effect that for some, would feel like a tsunami. Lemonade taught me that. Made me truly understand that. And as a result, I find that possibility untenable and I have to refuse it.
It’s scary as fuck, sure. Hop on Twitter and read the mentions of almost any woman you happen to follow and you’ll surely find a trash fire. Men who won’t show their faces. Men who are obsessed with what people supposedly owe them. Men with shit opinions and delicate egos.
I used to be one of them. And it takes work to be different. You have to lift weights to become stronger. You have to run to build up stamina. You have to study to solve problems faster. It takes hard intricate work to break old patterns and live a more fulfilling life.
Beyoncé. Warsan. Vida. Thank you.