Stand Close To Me: Building A Relationship
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
“NO man ever broke up with me.” That was a frequent boast of mine in speeches I gave during tours related to my various books focused on daughter-father relationships. That line often drew chuckles from the audience of mostly women. There was a back story, however, that exposed one of the five factors of the Fatherless Daughter Syndrome that I codified in my memoir “Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl? The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women.”
It was true that beginning in high school I often got the drop on most boys and men I dated. If the relationship seemed to be going off track or I thought them preparing to push me out the door--breaking off the romance--I quickly announced my displeasure in the sassiest or most demeaning language possible and strutted away. I never looked back.
Don’t think for one minute that all of those paramours or would be paramours were dogs, not worthy of my time. Many were kind, good looking and flaunted a decent intellect. More than a few seemed to genuinely care for me. They showered me with their attention, including gifts and confessions of love.
I was not naïve then--or now--to believe all words spoken were true. But some of those guys were speaking from their hearts. Still, I slayed their words before they could even escape their mouths. You know what I am talking about. I was intent on wounding before I was wounded.
Hindsight brings clarity I did not possess back then. In fact, during those years, I wasn’t even aware of what I was doing, to say nothing of why I was engaged in such a wicked emotional sport.
I was a bundle of contradictions. There I was walking away from men who seemed to adore me while secretly longing for love—longing for a serious, intimate relationship that touched and moved me--not just my body but my spirit, my soul. I spent many hours in my bedroom wondering why the thing I wanted so deeply, dreamed about even, eluded me.
As I matured, I began to ask myself questions about myself, about my motivations. “Who am I?”
That may sound strange, especially since when I began to pose that question, I was already 30 years old. I had been twice married and twice divorced. I had had three children—one who died at only two years old.
There wasn’t anything unique about my late exploration, however. Many of us walk around in a daze—like zombies. We go through the motions of life, never realizing that our actions are not intentional or purposeful. We are doing what we saw others do, what were taught or what we always have done to get from one day to the next. We often miss the pleasure and excitement of self-discovery. We think we know ourselves.
Sure, we know where we were born; we know our family history; we know special events from our academic or professional careers; we can recite with accuracy the outlines of our personal narrative. All too often, however, we haven’t taken the time to examine what it all means.
What is the portrait of ourselves created by all those dates and stories? What message do they send about the relationship we have had and continue to maintain with ourselves, with others?
I remember the day I began my self-exploration. I was at a fatherhood conference where men, mainly white men, were proclaiming the importance of fathers to the male project, finding, exploring and naming true masculinity—not some dime store imitation of manhood. I was a journalist, covering the budding fatherhood movement.
I asked myself then, if fathers are so important to boys and young men, are they equally important to girls and women. And what happens to a woman who grows up without a father.
Those two questions caused me to go inside--digging up the dirt, the emotional trauma, removing the colorful wallpaper hiding the cracks and the holes that only I knew were there. That excavation was no easy feat. In fact, if I am honest, it continues even today.
Along the way, I ran into that girl, that young woman, who needed, at least figuratively, to draw the first blood, to wound a heart before hers was harmed. I came to understand that she could not know love of another because she had yet to fully know, appreciate and love herself—flaws and all. I also came to understand the significant role a father plays in a woman’s embrace of herself and in her relationship with others, particularly men.
In my work with Esther Productions Inc, I frequently meet women—of all ages, all classes, all races—who talk about wanting a solid romantic relationship. Far too many of them are like I was—quick to walk away when there is a change in the rhythm; when a partner or potential partner makes a silly mistake, when there is an argument of little consequence but that becomes blown out of proportion because no one is really listening or because it’s way too scary to love deeply, unconditionally.
When I was wounding, I was acting out my own fear. In my book, that’s the second factor—THE TRIPLE FEAR FACTOR: Fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of commitment.
I have said that there are only two emotions in the world—fear and love. Most of the negative energy we experience—whether we're giving it or receiving it —is borne out of fear.
Before we can truly know, appreciate and love ourselves, we must confront fear. We must meet it head-to-head, manage it, then put it in its place.
Yes, with each new experience, each new encounter, each new person for whom we open the door to our world, fear returns uninvited. But if we have done the work with ourselves, we understand that and are not intimidated. We don’t deliberately go around wounding to prevent ourselves from being wounded.
Building deep, satisfying and nourishing relationships requires time and work. That can’t be done on the fly. Commitment is labor-intensive.
Around Valentine’ Day, people think a lot about love. They focus, however, on the superficial expressions: candy, cards, flowers, expensive gifts, or dinner and champagne. All of that is nice, of course. But relationships, the ones that truly matter to our spirit and our soul, need more than trinkets. They need substance and sustenance.
Years ago, I wrote down six things I thought were important to building any relationship, especially one that is intimate, one for which there are ambitions of depth and longevity. I am certain there are more things to consider, but I believe these the most crucial:
1. Know and Love yourself. I still believe that we cannot begin to love anyone—not our children, not our platonic friends—if we are holding back from ourselves.
2. Cultivate Friendship—The solid, unimpeachable foundation of a long-lasting romance is friendship. Lust fads. It gets a broken leg, arthritis, prostate cancer, some other physical frailty or infirmity; sometimes it can even forget your name. If there isn’t genuine caring, liking, a space that laughter, warmth, understanding and nurturing call home, then the romance soon falls apart. The sweet spot of any love affair is friendship.
3. Listen. Maybe I should say listening—with your whole body, not just your ears. Dreams, the longing of a spirit, the secrets of a person’s soul are not shouted. They often are whispered in body language, in the way an eyebrow is raised, in the gaps between sentences, in a quick smile that flashes across a seemingly somber face. And then, once you’ve heard what is being said, invite more opportunities with you own words that embrace or confess. Love has always been a two-way street.
4. Leave the scraps at the trash can, on the floor, on the side of the road—don’t bring them to the table or the bedroom. Too often a relationship is smothered by bad feelings that come from not listening well, or from a weak friendship. So, when a mistake is made it simmers unless there is a conversation that leads to greater understanding or perhaps forgiveness. Without the later, the result is that an argument is replayed like a bad movie instead there being a decision to turn it off--completely off--and attempt to start fresh later that day or the next day or even the next week.
I remember when I was writing my book on father absence, one woman I interviewed talked about an argument she had with her boyfriend. They had been dating long enough that they were talking about getting married. However, one day they had a significant disagreement. She was ready to hit the door. He calmly told her that it wasn’t necessary for them to break up every time they had an argument. He used his parents as example; they had been married 50 years. Surely her boyfriend said, they must have had more than a few arguments. They managed to stay married and in love.
Love doesn’t go missing in action when words become heated.
5. Practice Forgiveness or a sincere apology is a powerful elixir. Don’t be afraid to serve it. And don’t be afraid to drink it when it’s served. (No further explanation is required here.)
6. Do Love. Love is a many splendid this—mostly it’s an action verb. Don’t just say it, do it.
I mentioned that at 30 years old, I had a history of failed relationships and marriages. What’s worse, I didn’t fully know how to discern whether a man loved me. I asked my mother when I was writing my book how could you tell. “By the way he acts,” she told me. My retort was “That’s what I mean; how is he supposed to act.”
Year later, I realized that it wasn’t just how he was supposed to act, but also how I was supposed to act. More important, if I genuinely love myself, I will know what I need and want from a friend or romantic partner. If I am listening with my whole body, I will hear in my spirit and soul the deep satisfaction and joy that love in action brings.
When that happens, then you’ll know every day is Valentine’s Day—with or without that box of candy!