Love Is...-"Problematic" ?

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Like most of my friends on social media, I was excited about the new show on OWN, “Love is…”   Set in Los Angeles in the 1990s, "Love Is--" tells the love story of award winning producers Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.  The OWN network already won me over with their series, “Black Love”, so I was eagerly anticipating the debut of this new show.  The program is told from the perspective of Nuri and Yasir's present-selves while they revisit the social issues and the vibrant black culture that helped shape who they are today. (Oprah.com)

“Love Is…” immediately drew me in.  The backdrop of 1990’s Los Angeles and its subsequent soundtrack creates nostalgia for those us fortunate to remember that period of music.    Each episode found me grooving to songs I used to love, triggering the memories of my own life during that time.  The two main characters, Nuri and Yasir are polar opposites and seem to have absolutely nothing in common however they meet and fall in love very quickly.   Nuri seems to be a woman on the rise.  She’s educated and employed as a staff writer on a hit TV show and has big dreams and ambition.  She’s juggling a few romances and hasn’t committed to anything serious because her career is her focus.  Yasir is a divorced, father of one, unemployed aspiring writer who is living with his “girlfriend”. His relationship with his girlfriend appears to be on the “rocks” but he doesn’t leave because he has no place to go and no money. 

The show is good, well cast, well written and a great mix of comedy and drama. I love watching Nuri try to make a name for herself in the entertainment industry and the show does a great job in detailing her roadblocks to success (i.e.: male dominated industry, sexism, and the fine line of writing art vs entertainment). I love her relationship with Angela, her friend and co-worker.  Angela is a friend who “keeps it real”; delivering real life truths to her sometimes naive friend.   Yasir’s friend, Sean, reminds me of so many guys I know, delivering some of the best and worst advice to his friend as he navigates this new relationship. The addition of Kadeem Hardison as, Norman, Nuri’s boss is spot on. He plays a sexist showrunner and Nuri’s boss. He knows he can be problematic but tries to inject humor and some wisdom in the middle of it all.  The show is funny, dramatic and very engaging to say the least. I’m definitely hooked.  However…

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The idea of falling in love the way Yasir and Nuri did was appealing and romantic (if I didn’t know Yasir’s backstory).   Yashir was smooth.  His initial invitation to the Wynton Marsalis concert definitely peaked my interest and his steadfastness as he pursued Nuri was appealing.  There is no question that Nuri and Yasir have chemistry.  Sometimes, that chemistry doesn’t’ make sense. I suppose that’s how love goes sometimes. There were too many moments where I found myself side-eyeing Yasir and questioning Nuri’s attraction to him.  

As I finished the last episode of the first season, I struggled to find the “love” in this love story.  Instead I saw an extremely toxic and one sided relationship.  Yasir is the epitome of a man exhibiting toxic masculinity.  He’s a leech, using one woman while pursuing a relationship with another, angry at everyone but himself, selfish, self-centered and prideful. Not to mention he has a horrible idea of what manhood really means.    Nuri is a woman who appears to have it together, she’s educated, rising in her career field, financially stable yet she continues to give and sacrifice pieces of herself in an effort to be loved.  Side Note:  To the show's credit, I gained more insight as to why these two characters are the way they are as the season develops (ie: past traumas, abuse, etc) . Watching the relationship between Yasir and Nuri develop has been entertaining but definitely left me with questions.

Do black women always have to go thru so much to be considered worthy of a black man’s love?

Let’s be honest, at first glance Yasir isn’t a great catch.  He’s unemployed, broke, semi-homeless, divorced and has a child he sees occasionally.   He’s left the care of his kid with the child’s mother and his own mother while he pursues his dream of writing. (Side note: the scene with Loretta Divine checking Yasir was award winning and full of so many truths…I shouted in agreement)  To add to it, he’s sort of leaving a relationship with his live in girlfriend when he “falls” for Nuri.  Yasir has a lot of mess in his life and it’s further complicated by his ego, pride and unresolved issues of what being a man involves.  He wasn’t even honest when he first approached Nuri. She didn’t find out the truth about his life until a few episodes in.  I call those liars by omission.  Does he flat out lie? No… but he most definitely omits telling her the truth on purpose which is just as worse as lying in my opinion.

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Despite all of these warning signs and red flags, the show is relatable.  There were several scenes and dialogues that happened in my own dating life that were triggering to say the least.   I think that’s the part that saddened me the most.  I don’t know a black woman who hasn’t loved a “Yasir” in her life.   Just like Nuri, we see “who they can be” instead of who they are.  Black women wrap their arms around these men and attempt to love, heal, and help them in every way possible.  As a result, often we take the emotional, psychological, mental and sometimes financial bumps and bruises that come along with these men’s evolution.  Often, we are the women who are left on the side of "relationships" road as “love-kill” because once they “get it together”; they leave the women who helped them get to where they wanted to be. 

Because if we’re going to go through this shit, it should be for a purpose. Right? Do we not love to be loved? Or have women like me mastered the art of being starter relation/situationships? Do we provide men like you with everything necessary to become the men you want to be---without us? Is that how this works? Who made these rules? I’m glad you’ve grown and are finding your way. But how am I supposed to celebrate growth that happened at my expense? What am I to make of a strength, nourished by food I cooked and dreams I fed, that I’ll never experience? There are far too many of us doing the emotional labor of birthing men we’ll never get to have and hold”.-Candice Menbow (4:43)

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My timeline was filled with women who connected with Yasir and Nuri’s story posting things like #relationshipgoals or “this is the love story I desire”.  I was puzzled.  Are we so conditioned to going thru shit with our men that this seems normal? Is that how we define “falling in love”?  Black women are trained so early to be that “ride or die” chick.  We are supposed to have our men’s backs no matter what happens or what they do.   We are taught that somehow “going through the fires with our men” is how we prove our love for them.  We are told that we desire too much when we want a man that already “has it together” instead of being willing to “build and help a man grow”.  Is our love defined by how much “we can take or handle”?

“I long for the day when a woman’s strength isn’t measured by how much shit she takes from a man as deeply as I yearn for a time when the growth of men doesn’t require broken hearts, shattered dreams and pounds of flesh”-Candice Menbow (4:43).

The scene when Yasir shows out at Nuri’s job and acts a complete fool was hard to digest.  This is a woman who allowed him to stay with her (when he doesn’t want to be at his live in sort of ex-girlfriend’s house), he drives her car (to look for work), and even offers to introduce him to her connections in the literary world to help him fulfill his dreams and he acts like an insensitive, selfish jackass.   At times he seems ungrateful. Other times, he seems just plain resentful.  His tone and his delivery come across cold and insensitive.  He’s intimidated by her success and it makes him question his worth as a man.  He takes his feelings about himself out on her.  Then like Jekyll & Hyde, he switches to a man who listens, who’s affectionate and loving.  It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions. Yasir has so many issues and Nuri willingly picks up his baggage and helps to carry them in addition to her own. 

Sound Familiar?

I wanted to judge her and say, “What are you doing girl?” (I think I actually did) but then I had to think, I’ve been her.  I’ve been Nuri, willingly picking up the emotional baggage of men I’ve loved.  I’ve tried to be healer, counselor, cheerleader and so much more to men who eventually drain me of everything I have to give and leave to empty another woman’s cup.  We love men so hard hoping to get the same in return and it rarely happens with men like Yasir.   Perhaps that’s why we are so invested in the show.  In this show, somehow, this couple makes it past all of the mess and eventually lives “happily ever after”.  Is that the fairytale we are all hoping for?  Do we need them to work to justify why we do the things we do in our own relationships? 

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In our desire to be loved, we shoulder our men’s burdens.  In our desire to be loved, how much are we giving up and/or settling for? Is pain, trauma, tears, drama, mess and heartbreak part of the journey to love? Is that just our reality? Is that how our love stories are supposed to begin?   Is there a point when being a ride or die chick is detrimental to our own growth and development? It seems to be a common theme when describing black love.  My guest writer, Abena Kawana spoke about this in her piece “A Tale of Two Cities”.

“…I find it highly offensive that when asked what the black man may have done to scar women, our opinions (which were asked) are dismissed and invalidated with such simple phrases as “Not ALL black men,” “It’s not ALWAYS like that,” “…..but YOU CHOSE him,” and weak-willed nature of man being to typical go-to for why women are so readily broken and left to piece ourselves back together. That’s the strength that you all, as black men, love about us correct? That you can literally break our souls and somehow, we are still able to stand up, head high, seemingly unbothered, with no obvious traces that you, as a black man, decided that my experience of your pain was not my exact experience. I had to have been over-exaggerating. I’m being too sensitive. I’m not taking into consideration the many eons that systematic oppression has given the black man everything but a capacity to love his black woman properly. And what’s worse: I, as a black woman, should maintain my strong stance and accept all of this. Allow all of this. Because the black man has not yet found a way to navigate his feelings or ability to be accountable for their wrongdoings…”-Abena Kawana

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I don’t claim to know the in’s and outs of the Akil’s real life but their show definitely made me think about the way we define love and what loving one another really means.   Maybe I’m unrealistic but I don’t want a love story rooted in pain, trauma and heartache.   I want to be a supportive, loving and encouraging mate to my potential partner but I don’t want to be required to endure trauma, suffering and heartache in the process. Things happen in relationships and dating but how much do black women have to endure in order to be loved by our men? 

The real life story of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil clearly has evolved as their marriage enters its 20th year.  I’m excited to see how this relationship evolves and grows and what happens in the next season but as a black woman, I wonder if I have to endure more pain, heartache and trauma before love takes over. I believe in #BlackLove, I just don't believe it should hurt so much. 

As always,

Take care of yourselves and each other

D. Sanders