What a sobering thought to realize I might not have been the catch I thought I was. Especially since, by the time I met my husband, I was thirty years old and felt damn good about the person I had become. It was just seven years earlier I dared exercise my independence and free-will by mustering up the courage to move to NYC. It wasn’t the idea of being on my own for the first time nor living in NYC that seemed daunting, but the reaction I’d get from my family and congregation for quitting my religion cold turkey and pursuing my “worldly” ambitions. I’d been raised to believe that, without the safety and structure of their ideals, I'd hit rock bottom. Or, as my mom would put it, I'd "fall off the deep end". What they didn’t realize, though, was that I already felt stuck in a bottomless pit. At that point, my life felt like the cul-de-sac street I grew up on; circling nowhere. My religion felt like a forced habit and my spirit was recoiling from the pressure of living a double life. I felt completely inauthentic, unhappy and totally clear that living with my parents at age twenty-three in a small college town and being a Jehovah's Witness was not for me.
Oh, I’ll admit to having major culture shock and identity crisis. I mean, without their beliefs, strict moral standards and expectations directing my every step, I had no clue who I was beyond "I am a dancer". I was in limbo waiting for the other defining blanks of my identity to be filled. In the meantime I felt naive, vulnerable, malleable and easily swayed. I was keenly aware of the ability of my "worldly" peers to possess and defend with intelligence such clear ideas and personal convictions. I, on the other hand, was well-trained to adeptly defend every belief of Jehovah's Witnesses with quick scriptural references. But they weren't my beliefs. At twenty-three, I realized I didn't really have any of my own. I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie "Big", with the body of an adult but the undeveloped mind of a child. I felt socially and intellectually delayed and totally overwhelmed. Beyond dance, I didn’t know who I was or what I believed about the world or my place in it. I wasn’t even sure about what I wanted beyond my first NBA season as a New York Knick City Dancer, let alone my long-term future. I wasn’t sure if I believed in god, religion or the holidays and birthdays my family stopped celebrating when I was six years old. More importantly, after a couple years of sexual hiatus (yes, I sinned), I finally had the freedom to date (or screw, for that matter) whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I had never really "dated" anyone or been in a real relationship. At twenty-three years old, I had NEVER had a boyfriend! I was supposed to have saved “courting” until I was “ready for marriage”. So, like any healthy and horny person my age with obvious needs, I thought I had found "the one" right there in my own congregation. But when, even an upright Jehovah's Witness dude didn't meet my parent's standards, I'd had enough of the puppetry and it solidified my resolution to bounce and do things my way.
All that important identity stuff was still pretty nebulous when I fell in love during my first year of independence and freedom. He was this tall, dark and handsome model I'd met at a music video audition for Rozalla’s “I Love Music”. We shared a cab after the open call and I was smitten by the way this tall piece of chocolate in a navy pea coat chivalrously opened the door for me and charmed me with his shy but charismatic personality. He actually resembled a modest, clean cut Jehovah's Witness but spoke with an urban edginess that was totally intriguing to this small-town girl. A few weeks later, his shoes were in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment I shared with my BFF. Yep, we were virtual strangers living in sin. But no one could’ve told me my feelings weren’t true love; the kind you find in fairytales. With him, I no longer felt lost in this world and nothing really mattered other than the fact he made me feel so talented, smart, sexy and loved. And it was more than just his love, but the way his family embraced me as their own. That sense of acceptance felt priceless, especially since my own family and former congregation of friends had shunned me in the name of religion. Yep, I got the silent treatment for a long time after jumping off the JW bandwagon so I craved connection to something larger than myself. My EX-BF and his family filled that need by loving me unconditionally which I'd never experienced before. I didn't have to earn their love by thinking like them or making life choices based on what they thought was best for me. I didn't feel controlled by their expectations nor did I have to compromise who I was. I was simply loved for being me and it felt like I was starting to carve a place for myself in the world and build my future.
I was convinced that my EX-BF was "the one". But, lurking behind our fairytale romance were the insidious red flags that I'd overlooked. Well, not so much overlooked. It was more that my underdeveloped sense of self and lack of life experience simply underestimated their power to adversely affect our relationship or how he treated me. 'Cause- bottom line -homeboy had issues. Issues for which he self-medicated; weed being his drug of choice. And I'm not talkin' casual, social smoker. I’m talkin’, blunt smokin' to start the day, puff at lunch and toke before bed kinda weed-head. It was as if he could only handle reality through the haze of chronic. I get it. He didn’t have the easiest or most ideal childhood nor the resources or support system needed to manage the fears, resentment, anger, low self-esteem and self-worth that resulted from being an only child to a terminally ill mom and a completely absent, nameless father. He was primarily raised by his grandparents in the "Boogie Down Bronx" where he witnessed many of his friends end up on the streets, dead or in jail. Yet, he somehow managed to finish high school, despite a learning disability that went undetected until his teens, while holding down miscellaneous jobs to help his family out financially. All I saw through my naive, small-town, Jehovah’s Witness-raised, rose colored glasses was his incredible strength to beat the odds along with loads of "potential". I saw that he was far smarter and talented than even he realized. But, he never dealt with the traumatic issues and circumstances that shaped his character. So, even though he ended up on the lucky side of statistics, he wasn’t convinced of his own strength, intelligence, talent and potential. This turned out to be a major problem because he started grabbing at anything and everything to help numb his pain, validate his existence and boost his self-esteem. Translation: he was a lying, deceptive, weed-smoking, merciless cheater struggling to navigate his own maze of lies. I unwittingly became his enabler, crisis counselor, cheerleader and ATM machine. Our love life had pretty much been reduced to make-up sex because, regardless of his claims of innocence, bitches (yes, hoochie-mama bitches) would be callin' my house talkin' all kinds of smack about where my man was last night! And, despite all the blunt force trauma to the head kinda signs and indications that this chocolate prince was unequivocally not "the one", my naive ass remained a sucker for "potential" for years. I downplayed his addiction and chose not to believe he was cheating because I simply didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to be alone. Besides, that type of deception and betrayal was incomprehensible to me. I mean, what type of man would have the audacity to hook up with some random chick and then come home to make love to their girlfriend...?
Well, when my EX-BF's best friend reluctantly broke the male code of honor to tell me the truth about my relationship, I was forced to remove my rose-colored glasses and see that I wasn't living a fairytale romance. That I hadn't found "the one". And that all the "potential" I fell in love with was still. just. "potential". And going nowhere. It was this realization plus the fact he slept with one of my friends that finally gave me the strength to end our relationship. I immediately dove into a cocktail of psychotherapy and self-help books where I began to realize I was sadly in a relationship that reflected my own lack of identity, personal strength and self-worth. I went into it with no real idea of my needs and expectations other than the need to feel loved unconditionally. As a result, I was a sucker for a charming personality; falling in love hard and fast before knowing the true content of his character.