If I told you I wanted to talk to you/ you think I’m try’na holla at you/ and maybe I am but/ you wouldn’t hear me out anyways would you? — Wale
The first few seconds of Wale’s “Diary” start out over a haunting chord progression. I can still remember the first time I heard those notes, sitting in the back of a shrinking classroom sophomore year of high school. Before its resurfacing on Attention Deficit, those notes were the quiet sounds of Yenn Tiersen’s “La Valse d’Amélie” the signature orchestral piece behind the 2001 French film, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the film. Showing “Amélie” had been the latest desperate attempt by our French teacher to make us more interested in our lessons. Madame was a sensitive woman prone to mid sentence psychotic breaks and our lost gazes and incessant clock watching had prompted her to attempt a BP oil spill style strategy of trying everything. Somewhere between lugging in a bag full of Vogue en français and buying copious amounts of croissants, she finally conceded that the romance language would probably never be more than a requirement to us and would assign short writing exercises that took up half of the period. By the time senior year began, she was gone.
What Madame never knew was many of us girls had found ways to apply our lessons outside of class. We dreaded conjugating verbs but used them frequently in the torn note paper messages we wrote each other sitting in the back row. The letters were mostly about boys. Most things guarded by high school girls usually are.
Rereading the crumpled notes, I have to let out a sad laugh. Partly at our butchering of what should be a beautiful language but mainly at how cyclical in nature my romantic relationships have been.
Rather lose love than to move on never knowing what it feels like.
It’s been many years out since the years in the back of that classroom, but in many ways, I feel I am still learning the basics when it comes to love. Lately, I find myself balancing between being a wiser woman and more vulnerable than my past has been conditioned to be.
Maybe the choice between being professionally and academically driven is an artificial one I’ve imposed on myself but in my twenties, I am finding that choice to be an easier one than choosing to be open to possibility of finding love. Living with an open heart takes far more emotional strength than building on what you know. So while pursuing success may be a grueling journey, maybe this is why as Black women we commit to it, in part because we trust the system. Barring the economy does not regurgitate itself again before I hit the big 3-0, my years on the grind will eventually off. If only the pursuit of love came with guaranteed results.
Years of relationships with men of different shades of the same character can leave a woman of any color numb to the idea of the chase. However for Black women, our experiences has been spotted with many more examples of a good thing gone wrong. Even if it is not our own experience, we all know a sister whose husband left her to raise their kids alone or that friend whose gone through so much heartbreak that we doubt she will ever give her heart like that again. By the time we reach adulthood, Black women have heard, seen and felt the pain that a broken relationship can bring so much so that we enter our teens with guarded perspectives more steeped in the history we learn than our actual years on this earth.
This is the insight into the psyche of a Black woman that Wale spits out over the light keys of Amelie’s song. It is a closer look into what many Black men have seen and gone through for years — being slighted by a woman who has inherited so much pain that any contact feels like a risk. She can’t be impressed by what he does do. She runs from what he might do. The verses on ‘Diary’ capture the myriad of issues women of color harbor that can keep them from taking a chance on love.
Wale’s look at the Black woman is not the perfect picture, nor does it apply to all of us all the time. But what is brought out in ‘Diary’ is a woman who all of us have been at sometime. It is who we can be at our worse, at our most bitter, at our most afraid. It is who I fight myself from becoming after year of my own hurt try to convince me otherwise.
I can’t claim to be a sage on this. (Even if I wanted to any guy I’ve dated in the past year could surely light up the comments section with claims to the contrary.) But what I can do is take an introspective look into some of the ‘guarded girl’ habits that I am guilty of and have seen in my girlfriends as well. These are not the most flattering, but they are the ones we will definitely have to get over if we are ever going to be ready for love.
1. “See all of them have made you incapable of a first impression”… hold on to first date jitters.
After getting out of a long term relationship, there is nothing worse than next few first dates. Even if you want to get back out there, sometimes the effort of actually going it can be enough to make you throw in the towel. There are days when a girl doesn’t feel like making the after work outfit swap and strapping on heels for a night of light convo. Its not that we don’t think you’re worth the time. But after 4 or 5 first dates, we can become a little jaded to the whole scene. Its shaving getting waxed for nothing. Its hours of breaking out my ceramic tools to make sure that one section of my hair doesn’t frizz into its own autonomous republic of fro puffs. For nothing. I know what it’s like to be on a blitzkrieg of horrible dates but eventually a good one will come along. It’s just a matter of time. I promise. Its important to hold on to the feeling of first date jitters. Your attitude can often set the tone of your night. So put the emergency call, your girlfriends’ Charles Barkley predictions to the side. If you walk in telling yourself, “This is gonna be wack”- it probably will be.
2. “Anyone presented in her presence is doing these life sentences”… remember, the new guy is a new guy.
You know the saying, “If it walks like a duck..” Well, erase it from your heads. The new guy in your life will not necessarily be the duck you had before. Now, logically we know this however it can take one waddle to wash all our common sense away. Tough example: you send him a 10 P.M. text and get no response until the next morning. If you’ve ever been with a player type you’ve already got this whole scenario all figured out don’t you? He’s with some jumpoff and she probably has a dusty weave. See? I went there for you because I often do the same thing. But I will say this: the first time- give him a pass. Not a free and clear you-don’t-owe-me-an-explanation-walk-all-over-me pass but don’t treat him the way you treated your ex after his umpteenth stumble. The truth is phones really do die, emergencies do come up and overreacting can mess up something that has a shot before it gets off the ground. Unless he does something egregious like straight up get caught in a lie, his first mistake shouldn’t be the one that does him in. Ask yourself: am I over reacting? Does it look the same because it feels the same to me or does it look the same because it is?
3. “Listen to your friend get another man for a minute then repeat”… know who to listen to.
Not all advice is good advice. As women, we need to be careful who we have in our ear. If your girlfriend has caught her last four boyfriends cheating, don’t expect her to tell you, “Give him the benefit of the doubt.” That’s not the hand that life dealt her and so she will not think it’s possible for you. Evaluate the voices around you and take into account where they are coming from as well. There’s a big difference between a group of like minded women and like mauled women. In my twenties, I am leaning to distinguish between the friends I vent with and the ones to listen to. If you’re lucky both those qualities exist simultaneously in one of your girls. But don’t be afraid to acknowledge the difference when you see it; you can only learn about healthy relationships from healthy people.
4. “I’m just tryna be the one who never run, but you run away from me”… don’t call the play before it happens.
For me it usually happens around date 3. The sabotage text. For me it usually happens around date number three. Even though I can’t find anything wrong with this, I’ve already considered the myriad of ways he could mess up or I could mess up. And so for us both, I will send him a text or email after another great night out and the first line will say, “look, im sorry about this but..” Then in 160 characters or less, I will proceed to feed the guy some garbage that is nothing more than me finding ways to say, “I’m scared.”
I’m sure that most of you don’t know anything about sinking your own ship via SMS. But for those of you who do know what I’m talking about- don’t give into that tendency. Don’t push him away and then find yourself slightly missing speaking to you throughout the next day. And don’t reevaluate the situation again by that night and convince yourself that if he really was the man you were meant to be with that he would have fought for you and called. This is crazy. I get it and you get it, but you have to understand- to the rest of the world it doesn’t make sense. You can’t push away a guy because you’ve been hurt before and come weekend throw your hands up when the pastor preaches about “waiting on the Lord.” If the man in front of you is the man you’ve asked for, say “Thank you Jesus” and keep your crazy to yourself.
5. “Wife, you deserve the label but, but, you been hurt before so you sore and don’t feel your able”..forgive yourself for being that girl.
Many times I just let his call ring through. Not because I don’t want to talk to him but because I remember what it was like to wait for a call. When your last relationship ends badly, you take precautions in the next one that don’t have anything to do with him. After spending many months angry about the split with my first big love, I realized something that finally gave me peace: I had spent most of the breakup being mad at me. In fact, I was so mad at me that I almost threw away a good thing to keep my pride intact. After working so hard to build back my life from when he left, I avoided falling for someone else because I wanted make sure that no one ever saw me slip again. So when the new guy wanted to know about my last relationship, I bottled it up. I knew that if I told the man in front of me the whole story of how badly the last guy hurt me, I’d have to tell him about all the times I went back, all the lies I didn’t see through, all the disrespect I tolerated.
Woman to woman, we brag on how much we’ve come through but if you put me in a room all alone from the rest of the world, I’d tell the walls how deathly afraid I am to ever have to do that again. So here in the light of day, with everyone in my life watching a new relationship unfold- I front, I act chill about flowers and cute notes and all the other things the new guy does. Things that make me want to reach out and kiss his face and walk around on crowded streets holding his hand. Instead of nonchalantly keeping those emotions trapped inside- let go and live. You we’re dumb in love once, fine. Forgive yourself, get back to your life and don’t be dumb again.
The dichotomy between love and logic has created an uncomfortable dwelling place for many women of color. Afraid of love that feels like drowning, we stand on the shores of love, watching the tide instead. Watching women who have closed themselves off from finding love, I can’t help but feel a sense of dread. Not so much at being alone but at being so scarred, so bruised that we simply refuse to let our skin touch the water.
The beauty of Wale’s track No. 12 was not just in the lush vocals of Marsha Ambrose or in the melody from a French film. It was that for four minutes and thirty-six seconds, you gave a Black man your ear and he had something substantial to say. He was not claiming to be perfect; all he asked for was a chance, a moment of your time to get to know you. To try to love you for the queen you are.
Maybe it’s time we fought the urge to keep it moving than and listened to what he has to say.