A few months ago, a musician friend of mine and I were discussing our ideas of what a perfect song is. One of the songs that I gave him was Michael Jackson's "Workin' Day and Night". You've got me working, working day and night. I'm so tired, tired now. Lawd, y'all. Some of us can totally relate. I know that, once upon a time, I definitely could.
Listen, doing a lot of work in a marriage is its own article. Today, though, I wanna tackle the topic of those who may find themselves workin' day and night for a man when it comes to dating. And by "dating", I mean anyone who you aren't living with or engaged to (because those bring forth other dynamics too). The season of dating is about getting to know someone better. It's about seeing how well you both gel. It's about getting some insight and clarity on if you desire the same things or not—including one another.
That said, if during this season, you're the one who is putting forth most of the effort in order to make it all work or last, something is very wrong with that. For one thing, relationships are supposed to be based on mutuality (more in a sec). Secondly, when someone is really into you, you shouldn't find yourself worn out from dating them anyway.
If you've read enough of my content on here, you know that I think a lot of answers are found in asking certain questions. And so, if you know that you do way too much in your relationships, here are five foundational questions that, hopefully, can help you to get down to the root of why.
1. Who Taught You to Act That Way?
I will definitely raise my hand in this class and say that I used to be the kind of person who did, at least, 70 percent of the work to keep my relationships afloat. If it wasn't emotionally, it was financially. If it wasn't financially, it was when it came to literally moving things forward. After a lot of self-work, pondering, journaling and unpacking, I think several factors played a role. For one thing, I watched my mother "carry" her second husband in a lot of ways. The insecurities in that relationship taught me how to be codependent and/or controlling. Nothing much more than that. Also, I'm a survivor of childhood abuse. Pick a category.
When you're young, you're innocent. And so, when love isn't given to you in a healthy or consistent way, you tend to think it's your job to do any and everything to compensate.
SMDH. Ever heard the saying "hurt people hurt people"? Yeah, oftentimes what happens is they attract people who are wounded too. That was my next issue. I have some great qualities; I also used to have some really broken areas. The same thing went for the men who I was drawn to. So did some of the people who I considered to be my friends at the time. And so, what was modeled to me, pretty much from every angle, is that love required being always doing the absolute most. By yourself. IT. DOES. NOT.
So yeah, y'all. If you're someone who finds yourself doing most of the work in your relationship, most of the time, the first thing that I recommend you do is pull out your journal and do some self-love journaling. While you're doing that, remember that the very root of the word "relationship" is relate. To relate is to "establish a connection". A connection is something that is a bond—and a genuine and solid one consists of mutual interest and effort. If you can't honestly say that this is the case for you, why is that? Your "why" can be the start of many breakthroughs. If you allow yourself to revisit your past and answer some potentially difficult questions, that is.
2. Is It a Pattern of Yours?
A poet by the name of Tuli Kupferberg once said, "When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge." Lord, ain't that the freakin' truth. The reason why this point is super valid is because, while some of us sometimes do most of the work in their relationships with multiple people, others realize that this only happened once or rarely. The reality is that sometimes, we get so caught up with—or is it consumed by?—a guy that we think that we can't love them—or give to them—enough.
Unlike a lot of people who felt this way, got hurt and now think that anyone who lives like this is toxic—or delusional—AF, I personally don't agree.
Giving your all in a relationship isn't a problem. Giving too soon, giving to someone who doesn't reciprocate, giving without some sort of real commitment being established? That is where all of the challenges typically tend to arise. You are precious. Someone who gets to receive you in abundance needs to treat you as such. What comes with that is them offering up a pretty even exchange. Not you wishing that they would. Them doing things in a way where you see evidence that they do.
If that is not the case for you because you have no idea what reciprocity even looks like, first, let me extend a virtual hug your way. Take it from me, when you are used to doing relationships a certain kind of way, it can be hard to break the pattern—not because you don't know that you deserve so much more. It's because you are simply used to receiving so much less. The best way to pinpoint if this is the problem is to reflect on (at least) your past three relationships.
If you were the one showing up more for all of them—why were you so drawn to that individual, what ways did they show up for you at all and what ultimately caused everything to come to an end? Once you recognize your patterns, you can start putting together a plan to break them. Starting with not getting in too deep with ANYONE who is not responding to the effort that you put into the situation, right out of the gate.
3. Is Going Above and Beyond More About Fear or Control?
This point right here is a really good one. Some of the people who modeled doing-the-absolute-most-in-a-relationship, I know that it was all about fear. Fear of what? Fear of abandonment. Fear of remaining alone. Fear of failure. When it comes to relationships, doing things out of fear really isn't the best idea or strategy. I mean, even the Bible says that "perfect love casts out fear". Know what else it says? It says that "fear is torment" (I John 4:18). That'll preach.
Putting yourself in the position where you choose to constantly go above and beyond for someone who shows—through words and/or deeds—that they have absolutely no interest in doing the same? I don't know too many more things that are mentally and emotionally more tormenting than that. And again, because Scripture says that the opposite of love isn't really hate but fear, if fear is motivating you to do most of the work, isn't that already a huge—HUGE—red flag?
As far as control goes, a motto that I made up that I personally go by, now more than ever, is "love is a gift, not a bribe." Some folks out here? They like to play the constant victim, acting like all that they do in relationships is based on genuine altruism when it's really about trying to control another person—or at least the narrative. Look at me. I did all of this for so-and-so and they did give me what I wanted in return? Uh-huh. Listen, did you do, whatever it is that you did, because you truly cared about them or because you wanted to guilt them into feeling obligated to reciprocate? That can be an "ouch," I know, yet it needs to be put out there.
Love shouldn't be about fear. It shouldn't be about control either. If you are doing so much because you want to manipulate someone into owing you, not only is that toxic, you'll still ultimately find yourself becoming resentful because, deep down, you know that what you're doing isn't right. Or fair. And building in that kind of space can cultivate a kind of karma that you may not truly be prepared for.
4. Do You Get That Men Really Do What They WANT to Do?
While I'm not the kind of woman who thinks that "real men chase women down" (that's another article for another time), what I am very much sure of is the fact that men do what they want to do. They will make time for it. They will prepare for it. And when they are really interested, they will show all the way out. Not because they've got anything to prove—it's simply that they are just that invested.
And here's the thing. Some of us will go on and on about wanting a man who leads the relationship and yet, because we're fearful and/or controlling and/or IMPATIENT, we don't even give them a chance to do just that. Y'all, it took me more years than it ever should have to accept the reality that sometimes, my "overdoing it" was actually emasculating the object of my affection and devotion at the time.
While I thought that the more I did, the more convinced he would be to give in return, oftentimes it either made him feel uncomfortable or even incapable of giving me what I needed. And because I listened to more of my girlfriends say stuff along the lines of, "Girl, there is nothing wrong with you, he's just a jerk," instead of heeding my guy friends when they would say things like, "You do know if he truly wanted to, he would…right," I remained exhausted and disillusioned, far more and longer than I ever should have.
My takeaway point here isn't that you should be entitled (entitled people are the absolute worst) and selfish. It's that you should resolve within yourself that if you feel like you need to fill someone's cup to the point where they feel like they can't breathe because they are damn near drowning (let alone do anything for you in return), scale back a bit. Give him the chance to put some time, effort and energy in. He just might surprise you (if he's interested in you, he definitely will!).
5. How About Getting Still…and Knowing Your Worth?
There's a woman I used to know named Molly Secours who once said something to me that has remained with me since it came out of her mouth. One time, when we were discussing the season and stage that we were currently in, she said, "I dunno. I'm just being still and seeing what comes to me." That'll preach a billion life—and time—saving sermons because a lot of women—single and married—will be out here, straight up pissed, and it's because they feel like their partner isn't showing up for them when they're not getting still enough to let them or they don't take the time to do less so that they can remind their own selves what they are truly deserving of.
Are relationships about giving? Absolutely. Do they require effort? No doubt about it. Yet never forget that, in order to truly relate to someone else, there needs to be investing done on both sides. And while sometimes this may mean that one puts in more work than the other, this shouldn't be a constant.
Both individuals need to show up—or it's not the kind of relationship that is headed anywhere good. And it's definitely not the kind that a good woman is deserving of.
Again, as someone who used to relate to all of what I just said, I promise you that relationships become so much richer and fuller when you stop doing all of the work. You're calmer. You're clearer. And your connections are so much better. Stop "pulling a Michael Jackson" for that man. Let him catch some of the slack.
That's what relationships—healthy relationships—are truly all about, sis.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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Oh, the infamous man-child. Some of us have had the pain of encountering a man who has the mental and emotional maturity of a petulant child. I know I have. Between the weaponized incompetence, arrested development, lack of self-awareness, lack of impulse control, and lack of introspection that tend to come with this type of partner, the jokes can write themselves in the pursuit of a relationship with an evolved man who can actually meet you at your level.
As women, we are encouraged to keep our standards high, which ordinarily allows the man-child to stay in the wild where he belongs. Even though the current state of our dating pool is not giving what it needs to give all the way through here, standards and boundaries have long served as effective tools in weeding through the “potential” and showing suitors the door if they aren’t on our level.
But let’s be real; sometimes, an unworthy partner can fall through the cracks as their “representative” takes the lead during the courtship stage. Months and sometimes years later, you might not even realize the full breadth of what you’re dealing with until the proverbial mask begins to slip. Instead of being a help, he’s more of a hindrance. Instead of being an equal, he’s more of a dependent. And instead of being invested in the commitment of a relationship, he’s more into indulging in laziness and low-effort tendencies.
In essence, a man child, also commonly referred to as Peter Pan Syndrome, is a man who is stunted (read: emotionally immature) and refuses to grow up. Instead of feeling like you have a partner, you end up falling into the role of a second mama, and who wants that?
Be prepared to run, not walk, if any of the following signs apply to your guy.
1.They lack purpose and/or direction.
Who was it that said a man with no direction can’t lead you anywhere? Whoever said it deserves credit for doing the Lord’s work and then some. Purpose is how you know fulfillment. Direction sets the tone for the path you are taking in life. Without either or both, you can find yourself squarely in a dead-end relationship with a man who isn’t capable of leading the relationship. More than that, being directionless can manifest in other detrimental ways to the way he leads his own life. This can look like not having routines, procrastinating like a mutha, or even avoiding self-work or self-improvement.
The man-child is just going with the flow and taking one day at a time. While being present is always a gift, the man you’re with shouldn’t be afraid of setting long-term goals so that his present can inform his future.
2.They become paralyzed at the sound of a commitment.
“What is marriage? It’s just a piece of paper. Why do we need to move in together? Everything is going fine just the way it is.”
Being strung along is too common when engaging with a man-child. Common relationship steps considered to be pivotal in moving the relationship forward are things they wince at or things that they just act very indifferent about. It’s not an act, it’s a refusal to commit to the commitment, a paradoxical reality the man-child can write the book about. It’s why questions of moving in together or marriage are things Mr. Go With the Flow can see himself doing without.
A reluctance to truly commit could also be why the relationship might feel like it’s not on solid ground. He prefers to run instead of resolve and sometimes waivers under the weight of what should be viewed as a simple mistake. And if you don’t want to feel stuck in a loop of are we or aren’t we, or worse, plateaued forever, you might be better off letting the runner be the track star he so aspires to be.
3.They rarely (if ever) take initiative in big things and small things.
Whew, chile, can’t you just feel the brunt of emotional labor brimming from this one? Whether it’s meal planning for groceries during the week or even planning dates and trips, hell, even your own birthday – everything seems to fall squarely on your shoulders to get done. More than that, you know if you didn’t take care of it, it wouldn’t get done. A relationship is not a one-person effort, so there is no reason why you can see that things around the house need to get done or things in the relationship need to be maintained, but your partner cannot.
Newsflash: they are okay with being willfully ignorant and might even be serving you a side of weaponized incompetence on purpose.
A healthy partner is willing to look at your mental and emotional well-being and take the initiative to take things off your plate, not burden you with the task of upkeeping most if not all, of the expectations of a household. Let alone a thriving relationship.
4.They always have an excuse.
Couldn’t wash the dishes or clean the bathroom today? Excuse. Couldn’t communicate they’d be running late? Excuse. Couldn’t pick up the kids on time? Excuse. Couldn’t create a meaningful idea for his turn to do date night? Excuse. Couldn’t get groceries done this time but wants to eat? Excuse. Couldn’t be bothered to cook tonight? Excuse. Any behavior deemed bad or unreasonable that they have done? Of course, an excuse. Whatever the instance may be, the ownership is severely lacking with this one, and the blame is always on someone or something else that will rarely (if ever) have anything to do with them.
There’s even an excuse about why past relationships didn’t work out, and surprise, surprise, their exes are almost always the cause. Early on, the blame game with his excuses applies to everything and everyone outside of them. Just know, eventually, he’ll also blame you. Speaking of which, this brings me to my next point…
5.They can’t take accountability if their life depends on it.
Maybe he shuts down when you bring up anything remotely serious or shrugs it off as not being able to do “negative emotions.” Maybe he downright denies it when you mention something he has said or done is hurtful to you. Maybe he acts defensive or doesn’t allow you to take up space in the conversation and instantly dishes out a rebuttal. Something he did is not acceptable under the light of accountability, and so it becomes about what you did to him. You’re being “too sensitive,” that’s not what he meant, you’re “overthinking.”
Maybe all of this points to the man-child you’re clearly dealing with is one that refuses to take responsibility for his actions or his words when it comes to you. He deflects instead of owning, whether it’s his bad behavior or his own emotions. Who wants that?
6.They have standards that they can’t or won’t meet themselves.
It starts with a comment or two here or there while you’re out and about, but they make it known how high their standards are regarding cleanliness or upkeep. But let them get into a relationship with you, and the unsolicited criticisms about how you are and how you move are never-ending. It can start with something seemingly small, like commenting on your cooking despite not ever lifting a finger to cook a meal themselves. The complaints themselves are self-serving because while they attach a lot of expectations to you, they never have any intention of meeting their own strict morals or high standards.
Said man-child might also appear withdrawn or “pout” when things aren’t happening “his way.” It’s almost as though they want you to fit squarely into what they believe a partner should be, say, or do, all while knowing they have no desire to also meet those standards.
Honorable mention to the version of these types that are able to dish it but can’t take it and lash out whenever they feel remotely offended. Pot, meet kettle.
7.They are still attached to the teet.
Sometimes, the makings of a man-child and a mama’s boy do overlap, and honestly, when you think of the refusal to grow up or be responsible in both types, you can probably understand why. In the case of a man-child, this can also manifest as relying on his mom to cook his meals and do his laundry, or calling her for every little thing.
It could also look like wanting to be the center of attention at all times and questioning why he is not the focus when he wants you both to do something he wants to do. Mr. Man-Child is used to being doted after by his mother figure, and wants you to fill her shoes, and wants you to be just as self-sacrificing as she is/was while doing it.
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