In Open Letter From A Recovering Main Chick, I defined lover identity. I also shared how it gets built, over time. I noted that lover identity develops from childhood. I said it gets built in relation to our parents, siblings, and friends. I also said it gets built in relation to strangers. Several women have asked me how that happens…how lover identity gets built in relation to strangers. This is an elusive, fairly constant process. I understand why it may seem hard to grasp or accept. I understand why concrete examples are needed.
A while ago, a mother wrote about her experience in line at her local Target store. She talked about how exhausted she was from a day of working, running errands, caring for children, and preparing to nurse her sick husband. She was feeling impatient and irritable, at best. She wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Ironically, as she got in line to pay for her items, she found herself behind an elderly lady who was paying for her items
in loose change,
She almost had a meltdown, right along with her 18-month-old. Her five-year-old daughter wasn’t having a melt down though. The little girl was watching the whole situation very quietly and very carefully. She saw how the Target cashier engaged with the lady in line. She saw his patience and respect. She heard how the cashier referred to the lady as, “ma’am”. She saw how gently he removed the change, for each item, from her “trembling hand”. She saw how he excused himself, to walk a couple of aisles over, and get her a more durable shopping bag.
That little girl was receiving information about the possibilities of communion, gentleness, humility, courtesy, deference, and longsuffering. Her lover identity was being built in relation to a stranger. The stranger’s name is Ishmael. How appropriate. In Hebrew, Ishmael means God listens.
If you click here, you’ll see a picture of the little girl in her blue winter coat with the faux fur around the hood. You’ll see her, hands clasped on the still, mini-conveyor belt, peering up at Ishmael while he did the work of God and served his customer faithfully. If you look carefully, you’ll see her taking it all in, noticing each detail.
Soon, perhaps a year from now, certainly 20 years from now, she may not actively remember this lived experience. It will be pushed back to the recesses of her soul. It will be etched into her subconscious. Yet, it will retain its potency. It will generate meaning, reason, and intentions that will merge with the remnants of other lived experiences, until a belief system is formed. It will be a system comprised of beliefs about what love looks like, how it feels, the ways it moves, and how it gets done. Eventually, the little girl’s experience with Ishmael, will (along with many, many other experiences), contribute to her fully formed lover identity.
This identity will be very strong. It will inform the choices she makes not only about romantic and sexual partners, but also familial, platonic, and social partners too.
You have a lover identity too. Be in touch with me to make sure you know what it is.
If you’ve experienced any degree of relational or social t/Terrors, take #LoverID Quiz #I and #LoverID Quiz #2 to find out more.
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.