Thank Me Later: When You Invest in a Relationship and are Left ‘Holding the Bag’ — Erica L. Williams

Enough time has passed for us to bask in the glory of the fourth season of HBO’s Insecure. We’ve had a moment to digest the “Lawrence, you are the father,” bombshell dropped in the last episode of the season. We were able to get our lives back, laughing at the internet names bestowed upon Lawrence’s girlfriend, Condola.

Crayola, Condola Oil, and Condolences are my favorites.

This season didn’t disappoint. The Issa and Molly drama and Tiffany’s post-partum issues were captivating. But Lawrence’s elevation from unmotivated couch bum to the legitimate tech guy, and Issa feeling some type of way about it in the third episode, Lowkey Thankful, had me at hello.

This was the episode when we began to see that Issa and Molly’s relationship had more cracks than California. Also, Issa confessed her feelings about Lawrence’s “come up” to her brother, Ahmal, as they drank strawberry margaritas and munched on Mexican food on Thanksgiving night.

“…the person he is now is not the person he was with me,” Issa said. “… they, (Lawrence and Condola), were out to lunch and I’m pretty sure he was going to pay, I never got that.” She went on to label Lawrence as a “the nigga with potential, the work in progress,” during their prior relationship.

“It took a lot of support and patience, and …. I feel like she’s reaping all the benefits of his time with me,” said Issa.

As Issa spoke, my mind envisioned her dressed in preacher’s regalia. I imagined a church filled with Black women, fanning their faces dotted with sweat because the air conditioner was broke, again. The women swayed from side to side as the high-strung organ music filled the sanctuary. I dreamed that as Issa preached, there was a clapping of hands and stomping of feet. A blood- washed, holy ghost filled, sanctified sister, imbued with the word, took off running around the inside of the church without breaking a sweat, then sat back down and straightened her custom made wig like nothing ever happened.

Issa’s words served as the scripture, sermon, and benediction for many Black women.

Relationships consist of giving and taking. However, there are times when Black women find themselves giving everything and getting next to nothing in return. Giving can include, but is not limited to, money, love, patience, loyalty, time, and being a dream supporter, therapist, and healer.

In the defunct Oprah Winfrey Network show, ‘Love Is,’ the drama that premiered in the summer of 2018, much was made about Nuri and Yasir’s love story. Nuri, a triumphant situation comedy writer, fell in love with Yasir, an unemployed aspiring director, semi-homeless, child support arrears owing, fill in the blank.

Created by Mara Brock Akil and her husband Salim Akil, the showed ended abruptly due to allegations of abuse attributed to Salim Akil by another woman. The show was loosely based on their real-life relationship, so it’s semi-safe to predict that Nuri and Yasir’s story would have ended in marriage. However, critiques of the show flooded in from Black women who deemed the story as anything but a love story with Nuri carrying the burden of much of the relationship. Black women are historically known as fixers, burden bearers. Like a larger than life superhero, we’re often expected to swoop in and save the day, in everything from relationships to politics. We’re loyal to a fault. Ride or die. But usually, we’re the ones left holding the bag.

Issa’s “sermon” reminded me of my relationship with an ex. He had the knack of a comedian and brought a side out of me I didn’t know existed. He reminded me not to take life so seriously, and ultimately, I let my guard down. He’d always quip if we ever had kids, he’d be the fun parent.

He made considerably less money than I did. His housing situation was shaky, at best, and transportation unreliable, at worst. As the relationship unfolded, so did new levels of baggage. But I assured him it was nothing we couldn’t handle, together.

I saw him for who he was, but also who he could become. It’s not that I didn’t think he was good enough. Maybe in hindsight, he interpreted it that way. I felt his education and skills were underutilized where he worked. It bothered me that he was satisfied with the status quo. But he had potential. Potential I was willing to invest in until I wasn’t. Even when we’d overcome one obstacle, another one would fall quickly in line.

Like the legal issue from his past, which prohibited him from opportunities that could’ve been afforded otherwise. I spent months getting the problem resolved without him having to hire a lawyer. However, I don’t recall a thank you, even though it resulted in him qualifying for a better job pool. He secured a promotion but still weaponized that I made more money and used it as an excuse to shirk responsibilities.

The final straw was on his birthday, a milestone one. I’d bought lavish gifts, planned a secret getaway, made reservations at his favorite restaurant, and stocked the fridge with his favorites. When he’d casually commented that I’d forgotten his favorite drink, it knocked the wind out of me.

Crown Royal. Or was it Patron?

I realized then that no matter what I did, it would never be enough. Throughout the relationship, parts of me died, and my ex was the beneficiary. I blamed him for wasting my time when I was in charge of the clock ticking.

I’d forgotten all men weren’t like him. The next guy I’d dated had admonished me on our first date when I’d pulled out my credit card to pay for my share.

“Sorry,” I’d apologized. Force of habit.

Even though my ex didn’t deserve me, if he’d called and told me he’d changed or apologized, I’m embarrassed to say I would’ve taken him back. Now, I know how unhealthy that relationship was, and I did the work to find out why.

In Black churches, the preacher always promises the parishioners that they will leave different after the service than whence they came. More enlightened, and in a healthier relationship with themselves and God. My ex was tangibly in a better place after we split. Much of his baggage, thanks to me, was unpacked and tucked away. I don’t say it with arrogance, but I know that he grew because of what I invested in our relationship. But I wonder if he did the work to finish unloading the rest of his excess baggage. Did his next girlfriend benefit as a result?

If so, I hope they’re happy. She can thank me later.

Originally published at https://ericalwilliams.com on June 27, 2020.

MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Blood Orange Review, & elsewhere.

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