Ridin’ and Dyin’: Debunking the Thug Love Fantasy

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Thought for the Day:

“Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.”

Tupac Shakur

Question for the Day:

Are you addicted to loving dangerously?

I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile and found myself struggling to clarify which direction to go with it.  I think part of the reason for my hesitation was the fear that the intended message would be misinterpreted.  Whenever words like “thug” are thrown around, especially in today’s hostile racial climate, people automatically become defensive.  Some may even accuse me of playing into the assumptions of racists who are quick to label entire sections of society as criminal low lives with little to no redemptive qualities.  There are so many negative connotations surrounding words like “thug” and unfortunately the immediate mental image that comes to mind for many is the tatted up, bandana wearing Black or Brown male with sagging pants, flowing dreadlocks and  gold fronts.  This stereotypical image of the average “thug” is why the deaths of so many Black males in our society are too easily justified.  Sadly for bigots like George Zimmerman, being a “thug” comes down to how  one looks, what they wear, and unfortunately, the color of their skin.  Yet, I want to be absolutely clear about one thing as I delve into this post.  At anytime during the course of this writing, if I mention the word “thug,” “criminal,” “rough neck,” “gangster,” “bad boy” or any other term frequently used to describe a man who is generally a threat to himself or others, I AM NOT ONLY TALKING ABOUT MINORITIES or people from the “hood.”  Thugs come in all colors and classes.  There are plenty of white dope boys posted up in trailer parks and White collar gangsters who do their dirt on Wall Street instead of on the actual street.  Hoodlums, jerks, buttholes, dogs, and hoods come in all varieties as do the women who love them and this post is for ALL of them.  So kindly miss me if you’re looking for a reason to run defense because I’m not playing those games today….K?  With that being said, let’s talk about this thug love fantasy, which generally goes as follows:

thug-love-tattoo

Good girl who’s bored with her adventure-starved life meets bad boy.  She’s instantly intrigued by his menacing affect, muscular build and crucifix tattoos that say to the world that he’s a strong God-fearing man though he may live by his own rules.  As he cruises down the Avenue in his luxury vehicle, which good girl’s parents could never afford, he is devastatingly confident. He’s clearly paid and able to expose good girl to all the finer things in life .  He quickly turns on the charm and showers good girl with gifts that make her feel special.  She knows that he’s involved in some type of illegal activity, though she knows better than to pry.  When she expresses concern for his safety however, he convinces her that he’s smarter than all the others and will never get caught up, because unlike his counterparts, he’s a boss. 

It’s not long before good girl sees no reason to continue pursuing school or working her dead-end job because her man’s got her.  Her family and friends warn her that she needs to be careful because her new boo has a dangerous reputation, but good girl blows them off.  All she knows is that her man has been the only person to understand her and accept the fact that she’s not perfect.  She believes she is also the only woman to ever really understand him so she has his back.  She knows what an intelligent and sensitive man he is underneath all the bravado, and that his life would have been better without so many unlucky breaks.  Eventually, good girl decides that her man is the only one who truly cares and it’ll be her and him against the world.  Unlike his deadbeat parents and ungrateful baby mamas, she refuses to be another person in his life to let him down. 

Pretty soon, he convinces her to help him out with his criminal enterprises.  First, it’s just a run or a drop here or there.  Then she starts being a full-on participant, counting his money and the whole nine.  Though good girl wasn’t raised this way, she believes the hustle is only temporary and eventually the two will make enough money to run away together, build a dream home in the suburbs, and start the family life they’ve always dreamed about.  Once they’ve successfully outlived the streets, bad boy will change his criminal ways and love her wholly and completely because she was the only one to hold him down through it all.  He will marry her and she will gladly have his babies who will never want for anything.  She will reap all the rewards that only a true “ride or die chick” deserves and she and their babies will become the only people to finally make an honest man out of her bae.  Thug Love wins again!

Cue Mary J Blige and Method Man’s “You’re All I Need” and fade out as ride or die chick, reformed bad boy, and happy kids ride off into the sunset.  It’s perfect right?  Except there are alternative endings to the story that are much more probable.

Alternative Ending #1  -Bad boy gets arrested and becomes a convicted felon.  Ride or die chick and kids take a four hour bus ride every month to visit him because she can’t afford a car.  They reminisce over the “good old days” through plexiglass for the first year or so until ride or die chick can’t afford to take anymore time off from her second job to visit. Ride or die chick has to deal with her emotionally troubled children who miss their dad.  Though she once admired bad boy’s hustle, she’ll ironically spend her energy fighting to keep her sons from following in his footsteps.  Ride or die chick either resigns herself to working two and three jobs to make ends meet or gets tired of all the stress and applies for government assistance.  Either way, her situation becomes so undesirable for the “good guys” she eventually learns to appreciate, that her dreams of riding off into the sunset with anyone suitable are drastically reduced.

Alternative Ending #2 – Ride or die chick gets arrested and becomes a convicted felon along with, or instead of, bad boy.  Any children they may have are relegated to relatives or the foster care system.  The only success ride or die chick can hope for now, is to become a featured story on TV One’s “For My Man.”

Alternative Ending #3 – Ride or Die chick learns that she’s not that special after all when she catches her bad boy cheating and having more babies on the side.  Though she thought he had her back, she learns that like a lot of other enamored and naïve women, he just had her from the back. (yeah, I said it)  She discovers that she is just another baby mama on his team and spends a significant amount of time scrapping with his other women or hassling him for child support.  Because he doesn’t work legally and doesn’t have a permanent address, her efforts to take him to court and make him pay fail repeatedly.  Her options become similar to what she’d have if he had gone to prison.  Only this time, instead of pining away for a lost love, she’s perpetually pissed off and reminded of her stupidity every time he’s pushing his luxury vehicle down the Avenue with another new random chick riding shotgun.

Alternative Ending #4 – Bad boy gets killed.  Ride or die chick will never have her happy ending and her children will have no hope of knowing their father.  Of course his chosen profession never comes with social security or life insurance benefits so aside from whatever wad of cash his homeboys may offer with their condolences, she’s generally in for a struggle.

Alternative Ending #5 – Ride or die chick gets killed herself.  Any children she has are in for a lifetime of heartache and pain.  They will live with anger and grief forever and be left to wonder why their mother chose a life of crime over raising them.  They may never value their own lives and will probably die early themselves.   If bad boy lives, he’ll probably get over it soon enough.  After all, it’s all part of the game.

So Why Do We Choose Thug Love?

As a therapist, I have a few theories about the type of women who go for bad boys.  By and large, I believe that women with complicated or unresolved issues with their fathers are often the ones who buy into the thug love fantasy.  Here are a few daddy issues that can give you a soft spot for some thug lovin’.

Dad Wasn’t There For You

If your father was absent, preoccupied, or emotionally disengaged, you could be susceptible to falling for the thug type.  Not having a strong, protective, and involved father can feed a woman’s insecurities and make her question her own sense of self-worth. (See:  Daddy’s Girls )  To the woman starved for a father’s attention and affection, a rough neck brother could represent someone who cares enough to fight for her or who is invested enough in her life to tame her or “put her in check.”  On some level, a fatherless daughter longs for discipline and direction.  A take charge type of man could represent strength and security because she knows he will take care of business by any means necessary.  Unfortunately, a “by any means necessary” attitude generally means without boundaries which is why “taming” his woman can easily turn into him going upside her head, being “the man” may become sleeping with every woman in the neighborhood and protecting the one he loves may mean shooting another man for making a pass at his woman.  A ride or die chick may feel flattered that her man would bust a cap to defend her honor, but the tea is, he’ just crazy boo!  There is no safety in being with a man without boundaries so if it’s security you’re after, trust me, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Dad Was There But Had Issues

Maybe you did have a father who was a part of your life growing up, but he was an alcoholic or an addict.  Maybe he was a womanizer, gambler, or had a violent temper.  If this is the case, then a little girl raised with this type of drama, chaos, conflict and unpredictability may subconsciously see loving someone who’s troubled or a little “rough around the edges” as an opportunity to fix someone by being her man’s saving grace.  Unlike her own imperfect father who she was never able to reform, she can try her hand at rehabilitating the new man in her life.  She believes he does not have the internal resources to go straight without the love and support of a bona fide ride or die chick.  However, most of these women learn too late that you cannot change someone else! The only person any of us can change is ourselves and the ride or die chick has enough of her own changes to make.  It would be wise for her to focus on making those changes of her own volition before the correctional system or God forbid, the wrong end of a pistol, makes it for her.

Dad Was There But Strict or Over-Protective

I came from a two-parent home and my father was hard-working and a  strict disciplinarian.  He was a successful aerospace engineer and I often felt pressure to live up to his and my mother’s lofty expectations.  This could have been what fed into my brief fascination with bad boys in my late teens and early twenties.  Being from California, I remember getting my first car in high school and sneaking off to Compton or Inglewood to meet up with whatever dude I had met while driving down Crenshaw or trolling the party lines. I do think it was a way to rebel against the expectations placed upon me by my father who I thought was  rigid and out-of-touch.  My parents had worked hard to move us from Compton to the burbs and I think that like the character “New New” in the movie ATL, I kind of resented it.  I didn’t want people to see me as sheltered or stuck up.  I wanted to be considered “down” by my peers so my attraction to bad boys could have been my response to proving that I was still a cool chick who wouldn’t change no matter where I lived.  I think a lot of women think like I used to and are too preoccupied with “being down” and not preoccupied enough with being smart.

Look, I don’t write this post in an effort to shame my sisters who have a “prison bae” on deck somewhere.  Like I said, I myself was once a fan.  Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to come to my senses and my taste in men changed after I got dogged out one good time by my last straight outta jail boyfriend.  He gave me the story about wanting to go straight and told me that he needed my car everyday to look for a job.  Well, I found out later that after he dropped me off at work in the mornings, he took my car to visit his baby’s mother to have sex and help her run errands.  Here I was an intelligent and gifted Howard University graduate with a loving and supportive family living a real life scene from Baby Boy.   I was stuck on stupid for a minute, but I now see it was a huge blessing.  I deserved more than that and once I rededicated my life to Christ, I knew that I could never sell myself that cheap again.  I was lucky and learned early, but it’s not cute to see a 30 or 40-something year old woman who still hasn’t learned this lesson.  If you truly desire a healthy, stable, and fulfilling relationship then you must decide to leave the thugs alone, seek God first, and not settle for less than His best.  I know thug passion can be addictive, but like any drug, it offers death, destruction and pain in exchange for a temporary high. So if you’re looking to be someone’s ride or die, consider getting down with Jesus Christ. At least with him, the sacrifice is sure to be worth it.

“And there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12

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