I’ve been meaning to broach this subject for quite some time; Jay-Z’s most talked-about track on his latest album just happened to be the impetus.
Like many listeners, I groggily played the album when it dropped on TIDAL at exactly midnight. With eyes heavy from the fatigue that seems to be more present as I get closer to 30, and the first few songs piquing my interest, I immediately was struck by the haunting sample of Hannah Williams and the Affirmations’ “Late Nights and Heartbreaks” on 4:44. Could this be the “Lemonade” response that was rumored to be in the works for over a year?
With HOV starting off plainly stating “I apologize, often womanize”, my suspicions were confirmed.
There’s something especially painful about relationships that end with you feeling as if you’ve wasted your time. You look back at the money spent, hours used to coach him on his next interview, the dozens of times you overlooked some questionable behaviors, all for the sake of him getting his act together.
In some cases, the resources you expended were begrudgingly accepted, as the object of your affections sought an escape route from the relationship that you thought would end in “started with a DM” happiness. I’ve been there. I actually don’t know any woman who has not. We date men with the understanding that they need work, and it is our job to tinker with them until, like an old Chevy, they’re on the road, custom-made for us.
As my mother and her mother often say: nuttin nuh go so.
Instead, what happens more often than not is the man that you diligently fine-tuned to your liking, despite him being less than desirable, will move on. And you will be left in the dust feeling like you were with him shooting in the gym but never got to see that Lakers money. You look back at the past few months/years, and wonder “how could he?”
The default answer is that he’s trash and a user. And in many/most cases, he is.
But as I watched myself and other attractive, charming, and successful women go through the same thing, I wondered: what can be done to avoid this? Can it be avoided? Should I be more supportive? Spontaneous? I’d heard men don’t like women who are too available. Was I too available?! My best friend’s dad had given us advice when we were teenagers “all men are dogs, they just have to find the right trainer”. OMG I WASN’T A GOOD TRAINER.
And on it went as I dragged my love-sick vessel from one dead-end fling to the next. Until, one day, it hit me as I read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God.
“De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”
Black women were and are often viewed as beasts of burden that are expected to toil without complaint and bend without breaking. “I am not your mule” is a typically strong response to those expecting things for free. I wondered why so many of us were putting in overtime on our next new man project, when we were so adamant about others’ respecting our time and effort. Why was I so willing to take on the task of doing the emotional heavy-lifting in the relationship, with the expectation that it would all work out in my favor?
As much as listening to 4:44 left me feeling horrible for Beyonce and all that she endured, I was dismayed to find women on social media hailing her for her ability to be “strong”, and put out albums, while likely crippled with grief over her miscarriages and stillborns, and facing the humiliation of a philandering spouse.
Was this the picture of strength? A woman who can go through something ugly but step out and make it look beautiful? An alchemist who can transform the pain left by her empty womb into entertainment for the masses?
Was this something to be admired?
I recalled pieces of 4:44 and Lemonade in tandem:
Beyonce: You spun gold out of this hard life
Jay-Z: You matured faster than me, I wasn’t ready
Beyonce: Found healing where it did not live
Jay-Z: Please come back to Rome, you make it home
Beyonce: Discovered the antidote in your own kitchen
Jay-Z: Like the men before me, I cut off my nose to spite my face
Beyonce: You passed these instructions down to your daughter
Jay-Z: I suck at love, I think I need a do-over
And I was relieved that I’d given up making Lemonade.