When You Stop Playing Games: Relationship Stalemates

It has taken me way too long to think up this title. It describes the running theme of my North American adult life. My guess is that the kinds of stagnation in human relations that I can list here is in your North American life as well. But, alas, because of relationship stalemates, too many of my fellow Americans that stumble upon this writing will not let me know about just how much we actually have in common. That being said, many of my stalemates have been with North American women—by inheritance, women of color.

a bench is for life The Economic Oppression Stalemate

Because times are hard, your friend may not want to see you—or you may not want to see your friend—at certain times …too many times. What we have here is a fair-weather friendship. And the fair-weather status is often imposed on the other. Maybe this one is peculiar to Los Angeles—but from a grass-roots organizing perspective, very, very sad.

You can often tell that two oppressed friends are meeting when they admit quite quickly how long it has been since they have seen each other—and that they should “really get together.”

The Preemptive Strike Stalemate

There are two leading scenarios that I’ve experienced that end with the preemptive strike—and I say end because I am lover not a fighter. What many of my homeboys and girls do in this situation is strike back—because there is “a thin line between love and hate.” Scenario one is subtle and the other is more dramatic.

The subtle preemptive strike is inspired by the incorrect assumption that my use of language (as you read it here) is based on hatred, sarcasm or ultimately sadism. This essentially means that I cannot say anything (of substance) to my would-be friend without being attacked—but what I am calling an ‘attack’ is their defense. As most of the people I interact with are not millionaires or other typical success stories, I have to ask myself, ‘What “good” has come from being openly bold and certain for most of my so-called “friends”?’ Remember what happened to Malcolm X? What about Muhammad Ali? What about that guy that dated someone’s mother back in the 1980s and made her cry? It makes sense to me (now) why my somewhat underclass buds would shun so much apparent bombast—and when I say ‘underclass’ I’m sort of including anyone of any skin color who is not financially independent.

I know that I am not alone in this observation because too many of my fellow Americans speak defensively—like every sentence sounds like it has a question mark? Certainty is not fashionable. In my “little world,” this is where anti-mantra words like “kind of” come from—as in, “I’m kind of OK with that.” Speaking in the active voice must surely must mean you are an egocentric (patriarchal) asshole—while speaking in the passive voice means you are kind-of, sort-of okay (metro-sexual). Many people who smoke a lot of weed tend to speak in the passive voice—so who needs to hang out with a sober asshole? Hit him first before he does damage!

Now for the drama: I do not have to read another Alice Walker or Gayl Jones novel. Women have every right to protect themselves from strangers. Too many women live in a world of insecurity—or straight-up fear masked with a fake coolness. And, yes, this kind of stalemate I find peculiar to women—I distinguish Black women here.

This relationship ends quickly. It’s based on the assumption that my sole goal in life is to bring sadistic, meaningless destruction in my sister’s life. And it is clear to me that this assumption is not based on any information about me whatsoever. So, in her ‘wisdom,’ she must preemptively protect herself from me. And the pungent air of this defensiveness makes me very, very angry—and I never intend (no matter how many levels of enlightenment my person might achieve) to not be deeply moved by this tragic misunderstanding. What is worse is to discover that when my non-friend knows there is a misunderstanding, it has no effect because they are very prepared for battle and are unwilling to drop their guard—like they have been obsessively planning this fight for years and is actually disappointed there is no violence.

It was more popular in my twenties but every now and then you might hear the white/Asian-villain story about the Black person being rudely monitored in the retail store. The assumption is that the Black guy came into the store to steal something. This is supposed to be one of the great Black insults for us Black people. For me, the big insulting surprise is how many Black women find intricate, refined, highly-intellectual ways to find Black men criminals: rapists, thieves, and murderers… oh, how deeply rooted the world view of this fallacy…

What most modern Black men have done to reduce this painful rejection is to put on ostentatious, cartoon-character displays of some kind of social status (and, in too many cases, nurture misogyny because of the humiliation of avoiding humiliation). This is one way Bling-Bling came into play.

The Celebrity-Fan Stalemate

This has been the most distant lack of progress in my Los Angelino life. Well, one great thing about online tools like FaceBook and Twitter is that it democratizes the celebrity-to-mass-audience experience. I have made a handful of mistakes online not seeing this deliberate distance and wondering why this person is not directly answering my questions—not really communicating with me but they still hint that they want me around.

Maybe I’m a little old fashioned but when I ask a question (especially when it is in writing) I expect an answer—anything of any size… It is clear to me that this is too much work for too many of my “friends” which just another thing to add the list of what we don’t have in common.

In some cases (even for me), it would be too much work to respond to every question from every one. Some micro-celebrities have literally thousands of “followers” or “friends”—so this is a bulk-item management issue. Nothing personal…

The Parallel Universe Stalemate

This deadlock is simple to describe but baffling to me. Let’s say you can count the number of times an event has occurred. Let’s say, three times. The person you were trying to relate to, however, comes up with—gasp—zero. It becomes clear to you that you also must insist that nothing has happened in order for this great relationship to continue. In one universe, three… in another universe, zero.

You could assume that this is a Shakespeare drama, The Taming of the Shrew—and you are the Shrew, but that gives way, way too much credit to your stagnation partner. What is deeper and more tragic (for you in the short term) is that your pal in the other universe is not lying—they authentically count zero. So now it becomes a lonely waiting game (assuming, of course, you are right) as this other person struggles with a self-realization issue. This waiting should be rewarding for healthy young people but for my over-forty ass (with my grown-ass friends)… no.

The Stalemate of the Unspoken

“This is what you look like” Since I’m not a player, I’m really not qualified to write with authority about this one. When I think of this kind stalemate, I think of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ancient line, “…if you don’t have game then let her leave your world…” This, again, (for me) is a very gender-specific kind of stalemate—I would like to be secure in the conclusion that this is a gender-oppression-specific kind of stalemate. The game here is “successfully” navigating through the unspoken. Here are some ‘unspoken’ examples:

  • This person only calls, texts or tweets you when they need you to do something. Your pal does not return your call, text or tweet. Don’t talk about it. Deal with it.
  • This person invites you to an event. The most you can look forward to is being at the event. There is no talk about you and this person meeting in any way—that’s for you to figure out.
  • For “some” reason you are very concerned about the outcome of a previous encounter. Your buddy is unconcerned and has moved on to the next thing and you should shut up and follow—and then run to try to get ahead.Me getting into this kind of jam should betray a few unflattering things about me. This is because many of you can visualize the kind of grown-ass person that would make me navigate through the unspoken. Are we seeing the same person here? Yes, sadly, I am talking about a woman again—but the unflattering part is that I am talking about an attractive woman here. And being attractive is ultimately a “state of mind” which simply means that I am talking about women who have been told from birth that they are attractive—my daughter, by the way, is now growing up with this problem!

My poetry has always been about explicit language. My background in the western sciences doesn’t help me here either: I prefer explicit, transaction-based relations with people. Okay, the use of ‘transaction’ might be misunderstood here: let’s say, ‘Call and response.’ Now some women have learned (through patriarchal oppression) that men do not want to hear what a woman has to say. They assume that men “love” to hear themselves speak. All of these “wise” assumptions lead to getting stuck in the unspoken. When so much goes unspoken then misunderstanding festers.

The typical patriarchal male solution to this problem is to take action based on almost no provocation/encouragement. This is how my eldest son was born. I love my son dearly but I don’t recommend this unilateral movement as my son suffered the most from this bullshit.

My current solution to this problem is to take advice from Sir Mix-A-Lot and track the stats of my homeboys that don’t. So far, according to my count—in my universe, my sad solution is the best way to go (for me).

The Mutual Admiration Stalemate

Ended in a Stalemate So now that we know we admire each other what’s next? This seems like an easy question to answer but, as I was told once on FaceBook, it’s complicated. You see:

  • We can both admire each other but one of us (preemptively) assumes that the other cannot possibly have any interest in “little ol’ me.” This assumption conceals the accusation that someone is on a sarcastic, sadistic safari.
  • We can both admire each other but one or both of us mixes this admiration with misplaced competition—sort of a sad, sibling rivalry thing.
  • We can both admire each other but one of us insists they are “not ready” to reveal their “incomplete” selves to the “greatness” of the other. So the “not ready” one seeks the company of other “incomplete” people who bask in a social life, leaving the “great one” alone…### The Meta-Discussion Stalemate

After all of this stalemate shit, you might ask, “Bryan do you ever get into any relationships.” Not lately… Well, once one actually gets started we can run into the meta-discussion stalemate. Don’t lie. You know this one very well: instead of being in the relationship you are always talking about the relationship. Wonderful topics include:

  • Constructing some kind of guarantee for the future
  • Staging the same scene and/or character from the past over and over
  • Threatening preemptive strikes against what appears to be disrespect or some kind of threatCutting through this stalemate requires courage. But ‘cutting’ might mean you are holding some kind of secret weapon—so, to stay in this relationship, one must be careful with one’s words… I find too careful…