I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a Beyonce fan. She puts on a heck of a performance and I like a song here and there, but I’m generally drawn to music with a lot of depth. So I’m more likely to have Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Goapele and Teedra Moses on deck than I am to listen to Queen B. But every once in a while she drops a gem, and “Best Thing I Never Had” has been making me smile. Hard. Now that? That is a girl power anthem. And it doesn’t even include a dance sequence.

It reminds me of how different I was once upon a time — ten years ago now, even though it seems more like a century — when I was steady plotting, planning and pleading for the man I loved to love me back. He was the other party in my first real relationship, and I was good and strung out over that dude. I didn’t just fall in love. I somersaulted into it. He was my college sweetheart — and eventually, the father of my child — and if I had anything to say about it, we were going to live out our happily ever after. Despite all the odds against us, we were Huxtable-bound, hear me tell it. Love, I thought, would bind us together for a lifetime, even though we were barely 18 years into ours.

There’s always a reason to make a differentiation between how relationships start and how they finish. So here’s this one: in the beginning, we couldn’t get enough of each other. We hung out between classes, played around in the dorms, ate together in the cafeteria. Inasmuch as he was smart and funny and adorable as hell, my boo also had plenty of flaws. But his temper was the worst of them. Homeboy didn’t just get mad. He flew into rage. And anybody who had the misfortune of being in the line of fire — senior citizen, Boy Scout, paraplegic, whoever — ran the risk of getting dealt with if they crossed him at the wrong time, including me. 

That relationship struggled along for three years. Three long, should’ve-been-over-way-sooner years, which meant plenty of fights, not all of which escalated into that level of melodrama. But sometimes they did. And they always got progressively worse, to the tune of more bumps and bruises. The physical stuff was easy to get over compared to the baggage I carried around from years of wondering why he didn’t want me when a swift kick of good, common sense should’ve told me to be thankful that he didn’t. I forced myself on him, using our baby together and my desperation to be a tidy, little nuclear family as a reason to try (and try and try and try some more) to make it work. I was scared to be without him. But I was also compromising my self-esteem, my health and my heart by dragging out the inevitable. 

Of course now, when I look back, I’m fully aware that that thing was a toxic relationship. I don’t even think I realized then that it was. Ultimately, he ended up breaking up with me. That’s the only way it would’ve stopped because Lord knows when I would’ve become self-aware enough to realize our love affair was completely unhealthy. Sometimes even now, a full decade after we finally, officially called it quits, I break out in random praise to God for delivering me not just from being part of that couple, but from the defeated mindset I had. That was the lowest period of my life, without a doubt. Not just because I was chasing after him, but because I had started losing part of myself in the hunt.

If Janelle today could talk to Janelle back then, I’d cap off my lecture with a listen to “Best Thing I Never Had.” I’m no Beyonce, but I’m still a good thing. One day, he may regret the way he treated me. Maybe not. But it doesn’t matter. Because I regret the way I treated me. And I know I’ll never, ever let that scene repeat in my life script again. Lesson learned, my baby.

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