by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Sil lai Abrams, the relationship expert at Ebony.com, just wrote an article in which she challenged the notion of the “Ride or die chick.” The “ride-or-die chick” is defined, by some, to be the woman who stands by her man, no matter what. Sometimes, standing by that man might clearly lead to the woman’s demise, but because she has been socialized to stick with her lover regardless, the woman is willing to go down in flames as a result.
I know “ride-or-die” women quite well. My mother stood by my father even during the toughest of times, creating a powerful rock of stability in my family that benefits me and my siblings to this day. For that, I will be eternally grateful, although I am sure that my parents’ 40-year sacrifice was greater than most young people would be willing to commit to today.
Sil lai’s argument is that women should not feel compelled to stand by their man at all costs, especially if the man isn’t willing to do the same. On that point, we agree, kinda. I’ve seen people (not just women) ruin their lives in bad relationships, and some even killed.
The “ride-or-die” topic struck a chord with me because I had a conversation last night with my daughter on that very same topic. She was asking me if a woman should stick by a man if he “has issues.” Of course, as a father, my next question was “What kind of issues are we talking about?”
Without revealing my daughter’s business, I gave her this simple advice: There is nothing more precious and beautiful than a woman who has her man’s back. We’ve become a “me first” society, where everyone seems to believe that if they aren’t 100% happy and comfortable 100% of the time, then it’s time to murder your relationships. Hence, the divorce rate is so d**n high that you almost believe that marriage should be banned until we all grow up and accept the fact that relationships require hard work and sacrifice. People in other countries have lasting marriages because they are willing to work through challenges that Americans would never accept.
Now, what I also told my daughter is that it’s important that she be a strong, independent, observant and intelligent black woman. I flatly stated that if the “issues” are too complex and destructive, the person should “vacate the emotional premises” immediately. I told her stories like the one about the esteemed professor at Florida A&M University who was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide, leaving her two young children without parents. At the same time, it was made clear that wearing your ego on your chest in a relationship is a great way to see it come to an end. You aren’t always going to get exactly what you expect.
But the broader point to my daughter was this: Choose carefully, take your time and then stick with the choice you make. Love is not t*t-for-tat, where you only make investments in your partner because they do the same d**n thing for you. It is this lack of trust in black relationships that causes most of these relationships to fail. Standing by your mate is more of a testament to who you are as a person than a measuring stick of what your partner has done for you. In other words, you do your job because you are an honorable human being, not because you are seeking some kind of instant emotional gratification. A woman who says, “I’ll only stand by my man if I am getting what I want,” is like a man saying, “I’ll only be a gentleman if she sleeps with me.”
Another point I am going to make to my friend Sil lai the next time we speak is that I fear living in a world where we somehow throw all gender roles out the window. Hardcore feminism sometimes seems to push the uncomfortable notion that men and women are equal and the same in every dimension, and that alluding to any type of innate gender difference is nothing short of barbaric and oppressive. But I am going to be politically correct and say this: Men and women are not the same and it’s OK to accept that. Most men I know don’t want to marry another guy, but when we demand sameness in every aspect of a relationship, you’re effectively telling men that we should be the same as women.
Some can rightfully argue that women tend to be socially and innately built to be great nurturers and supporters (that’s what makes a mother so precious and powerful in the life of a child). Many men, on the other hand, tend to be wired as protectors and providers (my mother didn’t have to teach me to love football and boxing, my testosterone did it for me). So, I dread the day where every man says, “Fellas, you should only protect your woman from a mugger if she is willing to protect you in the same way,” which is the corollary to what we are saying by disrespecting the “ride-or-die” chick or calling her stupid if her loyalty puts her in a bad situation. The men in Aurora, Colorado who died protecting their girlfriends from the shooter at the Batman movie were not stupid just because their girlfriends didn’t do the same for them.
My desire to protect my significant other is not driven by some sort of instant validation or concern about whether she would protect me in the same situation. It is driven by my desire to be an honorable man, which means that I protect her because it’s my job. So, rather than always saying, “I’ll only do X if my partner does X,” it might make more sense to say, “I’ll do X because I am a decent human-being who chose a mate who is likely to do Y when I need them to do so.”
The bottom line? Choose your mate wisely and then dedicate yourself to that situation without becoming addicted to immediate gratification and emotional security. Do your job because you are a good partner, not because you want them to do something for you. While the single folks might make fun of those “ride-or-die” women (and men) who stick with their mates even when they appear to be getting the short end of the stick, the truth is that their marriages tend to last, while most of our relationships do not. So, maybe there’s something to be said about humbling yourself to the situation.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. To check out Dr. Watkins in the Janks Morton Film, Hoodwinked, please visit this link.