The Girl He Was Living With At The Time
I was watching an interview with a well-known actor talk about his long and successful theatre career.
He talked about how as a young man he wanted to be a novelist, but “the girl he was living with at the time” was into theatre — she was an actor — so he started tagging along.
He went to one of her auditions and the director and the producer convinced him to audition as well.
He got the role. And loved it.
Really, really, really loved it.
That was it. That was the beginning of a long and flourishing career.
He then went on to pay tribute to that director and producer.
He named them.
Said their full names with enthusiasm and emphasis.
Said that he really had to thank them for introducing him to the theatre and giving him his start.
As I was watching it, here’s what I was thinking: But what about the nameless “girl” he was living with at the time?
The one who introduced him to the theatre scene.
The one who asked him to go with her to auditions.
The one who no doubt used her skill as an actor to coach him and run line after line with him as he rehearsed at home.
She introduced him to theater and helped him get his start but she doesn’t she get tribute or a thank you or even a name.
She’s not even a footnote in a great man’s story — because footnotes are for naming people’s names.
A footnote would mean he cited her specifically. Named her.
But no, she’s just the (nameless) girl he was living with at the time.
Not worth it to her former lover to name her; apparently not even worth a follow-up question from the interviewer.
(Writers, Editors, Journalists, Producers, Creators: let’s attend to that. What — and who — we leave out is often more revealing than what we include.)
It’s important, really important to note this: it was clear from the context of the play he was talking about that his former partner was a black woman.
Yet another black woman encouraging and supporting and contributing her particular genius to a partner and a project and then disappeared from sight and even memory when her labour is no longer available, appreciated or needed.
Thinking about that, thinking about the last two years in our political history, thinking about the last 200 years, the last 400 years…
I am noticing.
I am resolved.
Like most heterosexual women, I too have been the nameless girl helping a man build his emotional vocabulary, his career, his life.
I have written and sent more resumes & cover letters on behalf of the men I was involved with than I have ever sent for myself.
(Kimberly Foster of For Harriet once posted a lighthearted yet pointed status on FB that said, roughly, that she rejects the relationship expectation that she will be a man’s unpaid life coach that he also sleeps with).
I think it’s important that women invest these life-building efforts in themselves.
And I think it’s important that (a) men stop utilizing the women in their lives to rise and do the self-development work themselves and (b) men who are coached into competency (and sometimes greatness) by their past partners start naming and acknowledging The Girls They Were Living With At The Time.
And not just when they’re in relationship with us…but long after. Decades later, when there’s nothing to gain in the sack from crediting us.
Because they wouldn’t be where they were without the girls they were living with at the time.
To All The Girls They Were Living With At The Time:
I see you.
I thank you.
I wish I knew your story.
I’d love it if you told it to us.
Let’s make that our project.