Please let us survive this. Please let me survive this …
I was on my knees, hands clasped, tears pooling in my palms as I tried to pray the truth away. I could barely breathe. The newfound fact of his infidelity was crushing. How could he do this—to me? I wasn’t sure what hurt more: that he could be so disrespectful—or that he was careless enough to let me find out.
And why did he do it? Wasn’t I enough? Pretty enough, smart enough, sexy enough, fun enough, faithful enough? What else—who else—was I supposed to be?
Or had I been too much? Had I overwhelmed him into searching for something—someone—simpler?
I never got a straight answer, except that it wasn’t about me but about him. And that he wanted me to stay.
It’s now been well over a decade since I felt any emotional attachment to this man. But I found myself viscerally reliving the memory while watching Beyoncé’s new visual album, Lemonade. Admittedly, I’ve always been more of a fair-weather fan than a stan; but suddenly, Bey was strumming my pain, singing my life. Pretty sure she was singing a few of yours, too.
Along with stunning visuals and lyrics that will likely launch a hundred more think pieces (and gossip columns), Lemonade seems to provide a blueprint (see what I did there?) for surviving the pain of betrayal, via an 11-point program modeled on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief: intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope and redemption.
Thanks, Bey, because I could’ve used some CliffsNotes on how to handle this.
Now, we can speculate until Beyoncé’s next surprise release about whether she intended this album to be taken literally, metaphorically or hypothetically. But regardless, as Dee Lockett noted in a roundtable for New York magazine’s The Cut: “[I]t’s a meditation on the way black people love: our love is always political, it has no choice. When it fails, it’s a failure for all black lovers.”
Yes. We, as a people, typically love hard. But the fact is, we occasionally fail each other. And when we inevitably do, how—and why—are we expected to successfully navigate those betrayals, particularly such intimate ones? Can any relationship realistically expect to survive infidelity, or are happy endings meant only for megastars?
Ultimately, is swallowing our pride—and our pain—the price we’re expected to pay for the sake of maintaining black love and, by extension, the black family?
And ultimately, is swallowing our pride—and our pain—the price we’re expected to pay for the sake of maintaining black love and, by extension, the black family? Obviously, if the inferences are accurate, then beauty, talent, wealth and fame offer no buffer against betrayal … but we already knew that (hey, Halle). Without the incentive of a billion dollars in an elevator, and the embarrassment that an undoubtedly very public split would bring (although what could be more public than illustrating possibly deep discord to millions of fans?), why would we stay?
Why should we sip the lemonade Beyoncé is selling?
In my case, we couldn’t survive it. Perhaps we didn’t have enough skin in the game—or my skin wasn’t thick enough for a cut that deep. But once the veil was lifted, we could barely look at each other anymore. Despite our best efforts to put it all back together again, the chinks in our armor were revealed to be chasms, and the life we’d planned slipped right through the cracks.
“What’s worse: looking jealous or crazy?” Bey sings. She croons that she’d rather be crazy, but in her rarefied position, wouldn’t it be just as easy for her to be free?
For the average woman—frequently called crazy for displaying any kind of emotion, let alone jealousy—this is a loaded proposition. Culturally, we are raised to fight for our men—to forgive and to keep them, at all costs—even when their behavior suggests that they neither want nor appreciate us. Meanwhile, we’re often quicker to blame the other woman than the partner who promised us monogamy. How crazy is that brand of jealousy?
About as crazy as invoking the image of “Becky with the good hair.” Crazy in love, I guess.
But still, whether talking about a husband or a father, we have almost always been encouraged to forgive, rather than, as Bey briefly suggests, “throw your middle fingers up, hands high.”
I—who have notably and repeatedly thrown my deuces up—have only forgiven from afar, well after the fact. I am no authority on surviving betrayal. As poet Warsan Shire is brilliantly quoted in one of the many interludes, “[My] heaven would be a love without betrayal.”
But speaking to a dear friend who chose to remain committed in the wake of betrayal, I’m told that forgiveness is “a path, a process, a journey; maybe even a personal project that one undertakes.”
Her personal journey included a confrontation, a separation and, ultimately, a reconciliation, which she credits as much to her partner’s efforts as to her own. When it comes to her union, her forgiveness has become inextricable from her faith; she describes the worst moments as a spiritual test of her commitment. As she says, “I feel like he [God] just throws curve balls every now and then, to make sure you are still in the game.”
I envy her spirit of cooperation, and her commitment. For the first time in many years, I wonder what it would be like to want to stay.
Admittedly, my faith works differently, rooted more in self-reliance than in solidarity. But in that moment, I envy her spirit of cooperation, and her commitment. For the first time in many years, I wonder what it would be like to want to stay.
Notably, in the song “Sandcastles” during the Lemonade video, amid the myriad images in this possible glimpse into Beyoncé’s personal life, is a single shot of kintsugi: a piece of broken pottery, mended with gold. The Japanese philosophy is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken, and stronger for having been reinforced.
But as Bey reminds us, “every promise don’t work out that way.” Failure needn’t necessarily be a final verdict, but nor does forgiveness mean forgetting. Forgiveness isn’t a “Get out of jail free” card. It’s simply a method of releasing ourselves from the pain of the moment and moving forward. Only the strength of the individual relationship can determine if that will be together or apart.
So in the end, perhaps Bey’s blueprint is to a custom-made home: It’s simply about love. As of late, we’ve become very fond of proclaiming that blackness isn’t a monolith. Why should black love be any different? My love couldn’t survive more than two participants. Perhaps Bey’s—or the character Bey may be portraying—can. Perhaps Mo’Nique’s openly open marriage can. And so on, and so on.
Sade said it first, but with Lemonade, Beyoncé’s ultimate thesis is that “love is stronger than pride.” But as ubiquitous and influential as she is, maybe Beyoncé is only offering her version of events. And given that there generally are at least two sides to every story, who knows? Maybe Jay Z has an answer album on deck.
And perhaps even more than invoking Southern Gothic superimposed with “new blackness,” what Bey is really offering us here is an opportunity to explore, once again, what the intersection of blackness and the brand of feminism she subscribes to really means, and was intended to be: freedom. As political as our love is, we have the freedom to choose, to love, to leave or to stay, if and when our torturers may ultimately also become our remedy.
Because like liberation itself, for black people, love is still a revolutionary act … and winners don’t quit on themselves.
Maiysha Kai is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, fashion model, devoted auntie and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based, single black bombshell who recently strutted into her 40s. She is also an expert at oversharing who chronicles her attempts at dating—and adulting—on 40onFleek.