Remember when Victor Cruz’s fiance sent a catch-all text message to his Side Chicks? A few people sent me the story, along with a bunch of LOLs and SMHs. I totally got the humor, I just couldn’t laugh. Why? Because, I used to be a Main Chick too. I spent years in often painful “monogamous” relationships due, in part, to repressed fears of being alone. I was unaware of the ways supremacist patriarchal ideology fed my fears, fueled my pain, deconstructed my understanding of love, and prompted me to detach from myself. I also did not understand how much other women suffered as a result of my choices in love. Thank God, I’m in recovery now. My recovery is all about coming to terms with Main Chick as a lover identity – knowing where the identity comes from, learning its impact, developing an awareness of how to own it, undo it, and rebuild.
Building another lover identity starts with first grasping lover identity as a concept. Here’s the definition: A lover identity is a person’s entire relational ideology and way of being. It includes the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and desires a person has in relation to all acts of loving. It’s not only about sex. It’s also about the social and emotional aspects of love and life. In one way or another, we live in, and live out, our lover identity with just about everyone we meet. Pretty much all day, everyday. We do this in a few different ways: either through a dominant lover identity with a cooperating subordinate identity, or, through a composite of two or three lover identities. Here are the five lover identities I found in my research with Black women: Main Chick, Side Chick, Bonnie, Bitch, and Victim. Each of these lover identities is toxic. Each is built as a reaction to supremacist patriarchal ideologies and enactments. I know this sounds complicated, and, in theory, it is. But, in life? It’s not. You’re doing your lover identity right now. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
Where Lover Identity Comes From and What Happens When It’s Toxic and Reactionary
Lover identity is founded in childhood. It’s based on our early experiences with, and perceptions of, multiple relationships (i.e. human interactions that are qualified as social, familial, romantic, and, eventually, sexual). Our lover identity evolved based on the ways we understood love in real life. It’s made up of the ways we saw relationships play out everyday. It’s etched together by the ways we felt (in)secure, (un)safe, (un)accepted, and/or (un)empowered in various relationships. When we saw our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and neighbors relating to each other, and experienced their relating to us, our lover identity was influenced. When we saw everyday citizens such as teachers, classmates, police officers, and even strangers relating to each other, and to us, our lover identity was further influenced. It was also influenced and deepened in the context of romantic relationships throughout the lifespan (think of your first boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover…think of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th one too). And, for the millions of people who encountered terror in relating during childhood – molestation, sexual abuse, physical battery, verbal violence, mind games, emotional neglect and terrorism – lover identity was founded in complicated toxicities.
When not interrupted, these toxicities will be worked out over and over again, throughout a lifetime. They must be worked out. When I say must I’m talking about fate and taste. Our fate is determined by the patterns established and perpetuated by toxic, reactionary lover identities. Our taste is determined by the distorted hunger and thirst we acquired through those identities. We will live out the voices and stories that make up our lover identity because interior love and life drives exterior love and life. This spin happens over and over and over and over and over again, etching out and stitching together recurrent patterns, unless they are interrupted. Unless we bring our voices and stories under conscious, compassionate authority, our toxic, reactionary lover identities will remain uniform and fixed. They’ll operate as static, failing defense tactics. Our hope will be to establish control where we feel weak and presence where we feel erased. But, with dis-eased lover identities we’ll only be doling out the appearance of influence and autonomy while actually having very, very, very, very little…if any at all.
But, I’m here to tell you: There is another way and it starts with knowing your dominant lover identity, inside and out.
Who a Main Chick Is, How She Was Built, and Why
I’ll start with my former lover identity, since that’s what I’m getting over. A Main Chick is the leader of a pack. She is generally resourceful, logical, thorough, and responsible. She holds everyone down and keeps everything straight. As a result, she’s seen as a complementary figurehead of household. She is socially known and respected as a “wifey” and/or legally known and protected as a wife. She has keys to the house (if not her name on the deed). She has keys to the whip (if not her own car in the garage). She has access to the accounts (if not her own cards with steep limits). She talks to the parents on a regular basis and she and the siblings are cool. When the major events go down (such as family reunions, promotions at work, birthday dinners, local and global vacations, major holidays involving rituals and gifts), she’s on his arm and in the pictures. A Main Chick is a woman who gets to be seen. She is no longer living invisibly.
Because of this visibility and coveted positionality, Main Chicks are imagined as nurturers. We are seen as planners, builders, managers, administrators, and caretakers. That’s basically true, with a bit of a twist. It’s tricky to understand because Main Chick’s bear the appearance of these benevolent characteristics in all those shiny, smiling photos. However, when regarded closely, a Main Chick’s social and emotional situations do not leave adequate room to fully carry them out. A lot of Main Chicks are often not especially considerate or compassionate. It can be very difficult for her to sincerely and consistently concretize care in relation to all those people around her. Why? Mainly because a Main Chick is usually watching her back. Side Chicks are so regularly prowling, trying to knock her off her post and take what she’s got…what she’s worked so long and hard to secure. So, in the end, Main Chicks have a relationship to be in, yet rarely have a dynamic they can live with…at least, not healthily.
But, she’ll keep holding on, because a Main Chick is considered “the chosen one.” She’s stayed loyal the longest and knows the most secrets. She’s the baddest chick in the eyes of her man and a requisite number of other men. She’s paid her dues to the guy who keeps her socially visible and financially viable and she’s acquiesced to the supremacist, patriarchal system that both reveres and reduces her. She is a prize, and, when she is conquered and concedes, she gets a prize: the man and all that he represents and has access to. It’s very important to note these nuances because they point to how supremacist patriarchies (which are lurking or launching in the foundation of reactionary lover identities), become clearer. Supremacist patriarchies construct the male gaze and girth as things to be won at virtually any cost. Supremacist patriarchies also mandate what’s required to get in the game, play as a real contender, and come out on top. The costs can be very, very high and they have far reaching impact, moving through self, other, and community across generations. The costs can include: your self-respect and confidence, your sense of peace and happiness, your sexual and physical safety, your premium time, energy, and sometimes…even your sanity.
Recovery: Understanding the Impact and Outcomes of Living in Main Chick and the Benefits of Being Another Lover
Like I said…thank God, I’m in recovery now. I’m almost three years clean. I use the term recovery intentionally because acknowledging and transforming lover identity means facing the fate and taste I mentioned earlier and transforming them, over time. It’s not unlike overcoming an addiction. Reactionary lover identities are made of the marred voices and deformed stories that get etched into our spirit, soul, and flesh/body because of the terrors we experience(d) in love and life. We get used to them. We normalize them. Recovery includes detaching from the relationships that trigger toxic, reactionary loving. It also includes hearing, healing, and cohering the marred voices inside of us, then reading and rewriting the diseased stories those voices tell us about communion, touch, belonging, worthiness, safety, partnering, and the like. It involves undoing ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and habits that at one time seemed sensible, even inevitable. I’m talking about the beliefs that were regarded adamantly, as necessary, among mothers and daughters, sisters and friends and between men and women. You know those beliefs. They’re carried by the voices that say: “You better do it or he’ll find somebody who will.” “You gotta learn your man, if you wanna earn your man.” “Everybody has issues. Might as well stay with what you know.” “You can’t go. Who’s gonna want you now?” OR “Whatchu gonna do without me? Nobody’s ever gonna take care of you like I do.”
Dissociating from this rhetoric (from the inside out) is not easy. Distancing or refashioning relationships with the people who spin this rhetoric isn’t easy either. At all. Learning how to own Main Chick, undo it, and rebuild anew is a process. Recovery has to do with altering or breaking established, intergenerational sensibilities. So, some people will get hurt. It takes time and determination because the growth that results can look like a betrayal of traditions and an affront to inheritance. Recovery rearranges allies too because circles change when cycles are stopped. A few people may not understand or support the growth and may harbor deep resentments in reaction to the changes. I understand this implicitly. I’ve done a lot of things well in my recovery and I’ve also made several mis-steps. I’ve felt pained, embarrassed, sad, and angry for many different reasons and over fairly long periods of time. My perspectives and behaviors have evolved and my community has shifted. There have been times that I have felt absolutely terrible and terrified in the process. I have also felt deeply and incredibly relieved as well. And it is so, so worth it. Even as I write this, and recall my struggles in relinquishing my old identity in love, I feel myself exhaling and it is amazing.
Recovery from toxic, reactionary lover identities is worth every somatic pain, every tear, every strained emotive muscle, every bit of cognitive dissonance…because recovery means doing love differently…in ways that anchor you down and open you up. It means being at home in yourself, with yourself, by yourself. Recovery means waking up and being awake. It means generating love, approval, security, and clarity from the inside out, without co-dependent sensibilities. It means being infinitely better positioned to partner, parent, befriend, work, and love with Others. It is peace. It is power. It is freedom. It means being another lover. It means loving Supremely. In my forthcoming book, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love in Self (Peter Lang, spring 2016), I make explicit the seven (7) fragmented selves I found voicing and storying the terrors a group of Black women experienced in love. I also show how those fragmented selves worked to construct the five (5) toxic, reactionary lover identities I mentioned earlier (Main Chick, Side Chick, Bonnie, Bitch, and Victim). Ultimately, I present Supreme Lover Identity – the lover identity to subsume them all, point out to a woman her real, organic power, and dismantle supremacist patriarchies too.
I didn’t laugh at Elaina Watson because when treatment and recovery do not happen and we standardize and normalize toxic lover identities…when we call them a joke and especially when we call them triumphant…we get girls and women who suffer from terrifying bouts with anxiety and depression that can become chronic and life threatening. We get girls and women who lose their voice, unable to get in touch with their truth, let alone speak it. We get girls and women who walk around with toppled self esteem and simmering fits of rage, totally absent of their ability to feel safe and strong and clear in love. We get girls and women attempting earnestly, desperately, to befriend, to partner, to parent, to love while fighting crippling, demoralizing fears that affect their emotional stability, psychological clarity, and physical health. We get girls and women who can only see each other as competition for that male gaze and girth I talked about earlier. We get girls and women who hate themselves and hate each other. That’s nothing to laugh at. Take it from me, a recovering Main Chick.
Jeanine Staples is Associate Professor of Literacy and Language & African American Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her book, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love in Self, is an endarkened, feminist, new literacies event (Peter Lang, spring 2016). In it, she explores Black women’s terror in love. She produces research-based courses and methodologies that enable marginalized girls and women to realize internal revelations that fuel external revolutions.
Dr. Staples’ next book details the evolution of her acclaimed undergraduate course, The Philadelphia Urban Seminar. In it, she explores Supreme Love in schools. She shows how she generates curriculum and methodologies that incite anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist pedagogical stances among teachers interested in urban education and equity for all people in schools and society.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for putting names and words on all of this, for showing us and telling us that we are not crazy and for creating space for hope. You are articulate, incredible and helping so many people. Thank you.