“Jump up & down on one leg”

“Bark like a dog”

“Arf, arf”

“Like a big dog”

“Woof, woof”

I can remember sitting in my aunt’s den as a pre-teen watching Coming to America laughing hysterically as Prince Akeem gave orders to this somewhat clueless woman who lacked her own identity.

Little did I know by age thirteen, life would imitate art in my own backyard. I would become the jump-on-one-foot-bark-like-a-big-dog woman.

My first boyfriend, Michael, would be the first to test my limits of just how far I would go to please & garner approval from a guy. He was a tall and slender ninth grader and to a naïve (and somewhat awkward) seventh grader he was better than strawberry Now & Laters on a summer’s day. All I knew was that he was the first guy who smiled back and wanted to call the parents’ phone. I can’t recall what we actually talked about as that was umpteen years ago, but I do remember him blatantly flirting with other girls in my presence and often times kicking it with his ex-girlfriend as I stood on the sidelines waiting to get into the game. He never replied to the love letters dropped in his locker in between classes, but he “liked” me, right? It would be a warm spring day after festive activities at our school when I finally got a clue and realized, for a moment, I deserved more than he was offering. After my older cousin, home from college, scolded me on how he was treating me after hearing him call me fat in a group of other pimple-faced junior high scholars I knew it was over.

I was done with Michael.

High school would test me once more when my “teenage love,” Bobby, indulged me with ideas of actually being together as a couple in public domains, but always found an excuse as to why we couldn’t be. The boy even told me I was too good for him and I didn’t listen. After four years of watching him go from relationship to relationship yet proclaiming he was not ready for one with me, I finally wised up on graduation day and let him know our private trysts could no longer be.

No more Bobby.

College would be my final assessment as I entered a delightful relationship with Terry (I still think about him from time to time…wonder what he’s up to…hmm…I digress). Life with Terry was grand. Until he felt the itch. After eight months (dog years in college, really), we split because he sensed the wifey trait in me and at twenty-one it made his Y-chromosome want to flee for higher ground. Due to the pseudo love we shared, we kept in touch for another four months as “just friends” on his terms by his request only. On New Year’s Day (so cliché but true), a light sparked inside of me and I finally heard the words I was always afraid to verbalize, scared of running some guy off, “”You’re better than this”.

I know you’ve probably read all of this thinking, “Oh she is probably one of those girls with daddy issues or no father figure growing up.”

Not so, my dad has been in my life since day one. First “I love you” from a man: Dad. First dozen of red roses: Dad. First date: Dad. Still my biggest protector, supporter, and encourager: Dad. He taught me how I was supposed to be treated by a guy and what was to be expected and accepted. Somehow all those lessons got lost in translation to real life encounters with the opposite sex. I was equipped with the knowledge like an overzealous teenager who feverishly studied the driver’s manual for licensure. Behind the wheel, I had the worth, affirmation, and validation, yet I drove with two feet.

Like so many young ladies afraid of unrequited love and feelings of rejection, I just didn’t know how to properly apply my value. Could I actually say I deserve your full respect? I will not be treated in a way that demeans and degrades my worth. I will be esteemed for the confident, intelligent, poised and beautiful young woman I am. All the things Dad told me.

But those streams of consciousness that rattled in my brain never passed over my lips, making my dating life equivalent to a Black Friday sale–pure chaos and confusion. When I finally realized I was worth more and understood how to apply it, dating became so much easier.

Nowadays, I simply add worth and stir.

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