Okay, so to be fair, maybe comparing my seven-year marriage to slavery isn’t the best analogy….I’d say it was more like a slow and painful death. For starters, I butchered the whole “submissive wife” role. I just couldn’t get it right to save my life! But the one thing I did know for sure was that I wasn’t about to be viewed as weak, nor did I sign up to get punked for the rest of my life (which essentially would be going against every fundamental principle I’d ever been taught prior to marriage). I mean, as Black women, we’re constantly fed the narrative that we have to be strong and independent at all times; which on the surface can seem extremely contradictory to the expectation of a submissive wife. We’re taught never to depend on a man for anything and if you want something bad enough, place yourself in a position to get it on your own. Even our urban music anthems push this mindset, “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T do you know what that mean? She got her own house, she got her own car, two jobs, work hard, you a bad….”or how about Ne-yo’s Miss Independent ballad, “She got her own thing, that’s why I love her, Miss independent, oh, the way she shine.. and of course we can’t leave out Queen Bey with her homegirls, “The shoes on my feet, I’ve bought it, the clothes I’m wearing, I’ve bought it, the rock I’m rockin’, I’ve bought it, ‘cause I depend on me if I want it.” So when you’ve been trained your entire life to be this independent Black Queen who waits for nothing or no one to progress in life, being instantly catapulted into submission by the words “I do” can seem ass backwards.
Let me start by pointing out my biggest mistake: I didn’t know what the hell I was signing up for until after I had already jumped! I didn’t read the fine print until the damn ink was dry! I’d heard through the grapevine that wives were supposed to “submit to their husbands,” blah blah blah. Although this word “submission” hit wrong and felt foreign, I was determined to be the best damn wife known to mankind. Thinking back on things, my focus probably should’ve been learning how to be the best wife to my husband, but clearly I dream big; and besides this wasn’t anything we had discussed prior to heading to city hall. Nevertheless, I’d like to consider myself a smart girl, so how hard could mastering this little submission thing be? I figured, he’d be dominant in the bedroom, missionary would be the go-to, I’d be on my knees a lot more often (and not just for prayer) and every now and then to spice things up I’d let him handcuff me to the bedpost. It gets no more submissive than that, right? Wrong! I’ll spare you the juicy details and just say I quickly learned that interchanging the submissive roles in the bedroom works out far better for both parties involved. So I found myself heading back to the drawing board; that’s when I remembered the words of my favorite college professor, “Chances are when you get into the real world, you aren’t going to remember a damn thing you’ve learned in these textbooks so when in doubt, ask an expert.” Finding myself utterly confused as to what a submissive woman looks like, how she acts, what she does or doesn’t say, so on and so forth I decided to give my Asian best friend a call and pick her brain until she finally convinced me that 1.) It would be absolutely stupid of me to try to act like an Asian woman 2.) The idea that Asian women are submissive is just a dumbass stereotype and 3.) If she hadn’t known me my whole life, she would think I’m racist as hell right now. Oh and she reminded me that Black people can be racist too. She was absolutely right, I wasn’t supposed to be emulating an Asian woman that wouldn’t be authentic at all. Instead, my calling was to be like Vanessa Bell Calloway in the movie Coming to America:
Prince Akeem: What do YOU like to do?
Princess Imani: Whatever it is that you like…
Akeem: Are you saying that no matter what I tell you to do, you will do?
Imani: Yes your Heiness.
Akeem: Bark like a dog.
Imani: Arf, arf, arf, arf!
Akeem: A big dog.
Imani: Woof, woof, woof, woof…!
Akeem: Hop on one leg….make a noise like an orangutan.
Imani: Ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo…
I had this in the bag!
Him: What do YOU want to do this weekend?
Me: Whatever it is that you like…
Him: Are you saying that no matter what I tell you to do, you will do?
Me: Yes my love
Him: Bark like a dog.
Me: You got me eff’d up!
Well that didn’t last too long…so off to marital counseling we went...
During our first session the pastor and his wife pointed out the obvious, “you two shouldn’t have ever gotten married, but since we’re here now we stand in faith that God will bless this mess.” Next they asked, “are either of you familiar with Ephesians 5:22?” Of course they would pick the one and only Bible verse he could quote besides, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The pastor must’ve seen the look on my face because he quickly called me out on it, “What does this verse mean to you, Pamela?” In my self-righteous voice I turned to him and said, “Glad you asked. I just looked it up and by definition, submission is ‘the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.’ So I suppose that means I’m expected to ignore all my years of formal education and training, continue to work like a mule while being subjected to the glass ceiling that now exist inside of my home, as if the corporate one wasn’t enough, cook even though he’s the better chef, clean even though he has hands, tend to the kids that he went half on and most importantly never go to bed mad even if I am menstruating.” If my pastor were to ever cuss, I’m sure it would’ve been right then and there, but instead he just smiled and said “no.” He went on to explain that “submission is simply the killing of oneself, specifically our flesh and ego for the sake of love and sacrifice. The ultimate act of love is submission which was demonstrated to us by Jesus submitting His life for us on the cross.” Okay that makes sense…but I still wasn’t fully sold, “why is it only wives being pressed to submit? And as a black woman…” That’s where he cut me off. “Well for starters, nowhere in that verse does it say women submit to men, it specifically says WIVES submit to your husband, so if you aren’t ready to kill your ego you have no business getting married. Next, wives are called to submit first to set the example because any man that truly loves you will make it his mission to mirror or even exceed your actions as long as he feels loved and respected.” Boom! I walked out of that counseling session feeling so enlightened. It finally all made sense, I was listening to the wrong Destiny’s Child song. I need to switch the track from Independent Women to Cater to You!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the answer either. It wasn’t until after the marriage was over that I finally understood that while submission involves the killing of your ego it also allows room for the nurturing of self-worth and self-respect. A wife isn’t expected to entirely give up her sense of self, rather she’s tasked with the oxymoron of growing while dying. Growing into the woman that God has destined her to be while simultaneously forcing her ego and toxic pride to die. Trust me, this is a whole lot harder than it sounds, but here are a few practical things I should have adapted:
- Servitude in marriage should not be viewed as slavery;
- When in doubt, ask your spouse first;
- Don’t ascribe emotions to your spouse, again ask;
- When communicating, listen for understanding; and finally
- Meet your spouse where they are (figuratively and literally).
So when I say my seven-year marriage was a slow and painful death, I mean it. Unfortunately, I killed the wrong parts of myself thinking I was doing the right thing, when all along it should have been my ego that I let die.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope in my vulnerability of disclosing what NOT to do helps you discover what to do! Remember the act of submitting is not a one size fits all, you have to try things out and go with what works best for you and your marriage! To my single ladies, you’re single until you’re married so choose wisely who you submit to and make sure you read all the fine print!