A few months ago, I joked to a few of my friends that I was “breaking up” with them and I quoted Donell Jones lyrics from his song, “Where I Wanna Be.”
“Girl the love that we share is real,
but in time your heart will heal.
I’m not saying I’m gone but I,
have to find what life is like… without you.”
I grew up with “Where I Wanna Be” as both a personal and household favorite. My stepdad played the song and the album more times than I can count, and I always loved them. But in actually typing out these lyrics the other day, I was struck for the first time with the realization of how trash they actually are.
To be fair the song doesn’t actually start out bad as Donell addresses his temptation to cheat on his long-term partner. “I’d rather leave than to cheat” he croons, because “when you love someone, you just don’t treat them bad.” Honestly, I’m not mad at that. That’s a very mature decision to make if you feel like you’re not able to remain faithful to your partner.
But if you’re making the decision to leave, leave. You don’t get to have it both ways.
Yet, as he’s going on and on about his desire to leave, he also makes sure to emphasize the fact that to him, this does not mean they’re over. He fully intends to come back to his girl when he’s done figuring out where he “wants to be” and fully expects her to be right there waiting for him. This is underscored by the fact that, at the end of the music video, he shows up to the restaurant she is dining at while she is in the middle of a date, AFTER she has already started to move on with her life, to let her know that he’s decided he’s ready to come back home. And what does she do? She runs into his arms and they kiss and it’s implied that they live happily ever after. Except they probably don’t.
“Where I Wanna Be” – like so many beloved R&B classics that came before and after it – promotes and normalizes the idea of black women as objects to be picked up and put down at the leisure of men and as only deserving of whatever semblance of love men are willing to give us. This “love” they declare to have for us is to be given only when convenient, usually only after we’ve completely invested in them and given our all only to be used, depleted and taken for granted. And it is only after they see real resolve in us to leave their emotionally abusive, exploitative asses that they resort to flinging themselves to the ground, crying, begging “please don’t go“, falling on bended knee and pleading for “one last chance.”
As a child and teenager, I naively believed these songs and gestures to be romantic; as an adult, I know realize how insidious this behavior actually is.
For starters, the things the men in these songs admit to doing to the women they “love” are horrible: emotional neglect, lying, cheating, emotional abuse and exploitation, manipulation, etc. But, as though the things they’ve already done to drive these women to leave them weren’t enough, these men then choose the moment that they know their women are the most vulnerable, emotional, and defeated – the moment they are trying to leave – to make these declarations of love. They know we are starved for their love, attention, intimacy. And they prey on this hunger. They cry, they breakdown, they grovel at our feet. They beg, bargain, and promise the world. They say whatever they know we want to hear to make us stay.
And often, we do. We take them back. We stay. But then what? These videos would have us believe that staying ends in happily ever after, but what they never show is what comes after the credits roll.
They never show what all of us women who live these experiences with these types of men know to be true: how quickly we go back to being ignored and exploited. How fleeting, how temporary , those newly declared commitments to “do right” actually are. Because for all that weaponized emotional vulnerability, all the tears, the promises, the pleas that we “don’t take our love away” from them; for all the gaslighting and emotional blackmail, the claims that our standing up for the love we want and deserve is “breaking [their] heart” and making “this grown man cry“; despite all of this, the “love” they have for us is still ultimately rooted in seeing us as things to “have” and “keep” and the sum of all we do for them.
Because men who really value us and are able and willing to love us in the ways we need and deserve don’t need “last chances” to prove they can change. What could he possibly need just “4 minutes” to say to you that he couldn’t have said in the prior weeks, months, or years? He’s already made it clear where he wants to be or, at the very least, where he doesn’t. Leave him, sis.