By Nezhia Burkes
Prof. Manu Ampim
May 15, 2004------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Friends, Lovers & Soulmates
Friends, Lovers & Soulmates was more informative than I could ever imagine. Drs. Derek and Darlene Hopson wrote a book that not only educates the reader on how to deal with their issues as well as their partners, but gives insight about why African-Americans are the way we are. And the beautiful thing about the book is that it is not geared specifically towards people who already has someone in their life or is searching for that special someone. Even if the reader is single, there are self-assessment tests and surveys throughout the book that the single reader who is not searching for a relationship can take to learn more about themselves.
The book is divided into four parts, each dealing with a different subject. There are a total of 10 chapters. Parts I, II and III each contain two chapters and part IV has four chapters. Part I (chapters 1-2) is about “Setting the Stage for Love.” The first chapter describes “what is a soul mate.” It is easier for someone to know what to look for in a soul mate when they have strong role models to look up to. Chapter one also breaks down the love that African-American men and women seek. What Black men want is outlined in subjects such as “she should be comfortable with her own sexuality” and “she should take pride in her ethnic identity and spiritual roots.” What “Black women want is outlined in subjects such as “he’s got to know who he is” and “he’s got to have some sense of spirituality.” Chapter one has a self-assessment exercise to help the reader determine the soul mate of his or her dreams. There are twenty-four statements to be ranked between 1 and 10, 1 being not important at all and 10 being very important. The book instructs the reader to rank their answers to determine what characteristics really matter to them. A ranking of six or above are the characteristics that the reader finds very important to him or her, while the statements ranked 5 or below may be characteristics that make the reader feel uncomfortable. To end the opening chapter, the authors ask the readers to keep a few things in mind as they strive for intimacy. The reader is asked to remember a few pointers such as “do some work on yourself,” “keep your eyes on the prize,” “look for common ground,” and “keep the faith.”
Chapter two takes the reader back to their roots in Africa. Hopson and Hopson take a look at our ancestors to see how they kept traditions intact and preserved family ties before slavery. The authors believe that in order to understand relationships between African-American men and women, the past must be understood as well. History has an influence on how we relate to one another. Our people survived in times of adversity because we remained united. African societies viewed marriage as a way of linking two families together to expand their influence on society. In some African traditions, the man may take more than one wife, but he takes care of however many wives he has and this lifestyle is agreed upon by all, especially the women. This eliminates any fatherless children and there are no lonely women. In today’s society, we are all asking the same questions, “What is wrong with Black men?” and “What is wrong with Black women?” The answer to these questions lies within our history. African-Americans are the only group of people that were brought to America against our will. We were thrown into an unknown society and denied our human rights through the process of enslavement. In order to repair our relationships, we have to sort out our history. Slavery has done many things to African-Americans such as the man of the house being replaced by the slave master. Black women had to endure sexual exploitation from the slave master, and the Black man was considered more of a stud, depending on how many children he fathered. These roles are very much present today. Sometimes, though, the uneducated take situations out of context. Young Black men may say things referring to their actions and justify them by stating that it is okay for them to be unfaithful because it is in their blood. Whereas, many young Black women falsely believe that they can effectively raise children without a man around.
Part II (chapters 3-4) is on the subject of “Looking Inward.” Chapter three discusses how to learn to love ourselves. Self-respect is mentioned as being the first phase of loving yourself, and there is a self-esteem exercise on how to enjoy being by yourself. It is advised that if a person goes out and does things they enjoy, s(he) will meet others who enjoy the same things they do. There are other self-exercises in this chapter such as visualization, liking your body and changing behaviors. The exercises are very valuable to those readers who didn’t have positive role models growing up. It is hard to know what is a soul mate if a person didn’t have someone in their life to show them. Chapter three also suggests to make peace with your past and understand your past by erasing old internal negative messages. The authors also explain how racial identity is formed and the importance of the Black women’s place in society.
Chapter four illustrates the patterns of our relationships like dating the same type of person or looking for similar unhealthy qualities in a mate. This chapter has a self-assessment exercise that outlines the most common mistakes both men and women make, along with discussions on where habits come from and how to break them. There are other self-assessment exercises on changing behavior with self-talk and listening to your inner voice. It outlines what to do when violence enters the picture as well as how to look for love when you are single.
Part III (chapters 5-6) offers “Tools for Making It Work,” beginning with chapter five explaining twelve lessons for developing intimacy. Before delving into the 12 lessons, chapter five describes myths and the reality associated with them. The lessons are as follows: “commitment is a decision,” as pointed out in lesson one. Lesson two is “without trust, there can’t be victory.” Lesson three announces that compromise isn’t a dirty word, while lesson four says to target your anger where it belongs. Lesson five suggests how to keep your balance, and lesson six helps shed the attitude of helplessness. Lesson seven adamantly states our African-American sisters are not “bitches” while on the flip side, lesson eight states just as adamantly that our African-American brothers are not “dogs.” Lesson nine indicates our soul mates aren’t our mirror image and the tenth lesson for developing intimacy is to believe in the possibility of change. Lesson eleven is to recognize the warning signals, and the final lesson is to not be afraid to ask for help.
Chapter six discusses “the art of communication” and learning to talk as well as learning to listen. This chapter looks at the different types of communication styles and how they are developed. It breaks down the different types of people: aggressive, passive-aggressive, passive, or assertive. The reader will come across a self-assessment exercise on how they may communicate in different scenarios to determine what type of communication style they use. Drs. Derek and Darlene Hopson describe the communication style of aggressive as being openly rude or hostile and is therefore not advised. The aggressor’s feelings come first and they typically don’t think all that much before they speak. The Hopsons’ also don’t advise passive-aggressive as a communication style to be used, because real feelings aren’t being put out in the open but at the same time the passive-aggressor still wants what they want. The authors don’t believe being totally passive is a healthy from of communication either, because feelings aren’t being expressed and needs aren’t being met either. Hopson and Hopson believe being assertive is the best possible way to communicate because true feelings are expressed, and yet it still leaves the lines of communication open. Chapter six demonstrates the stages of conflict and gives examples on how to give tactful feedback, such as avoidance of being accusing or judgmental. The Hopsons believe it is important to have a contract with your partner so each understands fully what the other expects. They close part III with what they call “Seven Golden Communication Rules.” One, initiate dialogue, but keep in mind that there is a time and a place for everything. Two, listen actively by using both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication to ensure you are listening. Three, validate feelings. This can be done by repeating the feelings in the listener’s own words. Four, don’t interrupt while someone is speaking. Five, stay on the subject. Six, fight fair. Sometimes during a heated discussion, things might be said to intentionally hurt the other person and this should be avoided. And the last golden communication rule is to respect the differences. Sometimes the solution to the conflict is to just agree to disagree.
The last part of Friends, Lovers & Soulmates, Part IV (chapters 7-10), confronts the tougher issues of sex, money, race, power, and friendship. Chapter seven talks about sex as well as the risks of cheating. It points out that problems in bed usually stem from somewhere else, such as things taught growing up regarding sex or feelings about your body. Included in chapter seven is a self-assessment exercise about sexual hang-ups. There are twelve questions for the reader to answer to determine how they may view sex and if they have any sexual issues. The authors advise to talk about sex with your partner and to be faithful as well. And, in the case of infidelity, there is guidance on what do when an affair is discovered.
Chapter eight suggests to talk openly about things such as work, money and power. Derek and Darlene Hopson advise to use assertive communication while doing this. How far our careers have gone, including our status and power, may have more of an effect on our relationships than we may think. Attitudes are formed in many different ways, many of them being from how we were raised. For example, if you saw your parents work hard to support you and your siblings, more than likely, you will be a hard worker and frown upon those who are lazy. To decide what you want in a relationship, you have to understand your own feelings when it comes to money and power. Some men feel intimidated by a woman who makes more money than he does, and as a result he may feel powerless. Likewise, women who make more money than their mate may have less respect for him. Such perceptions and issues should be discussed. This chapter also warns to not bring work home. Any problems that may have happened in the office should stay there. When issues from work are brought into the house, more problems arise.
The ninth chapter deals with race. It has to be understood between soul mates that each person’s view is as important as the other. While some grew up in an integrated community and can relate as such, others may have grown up in a segregated all-Black community and may not understand why their partner can interact so easily with other races. This chapter goes deeper than just race itself, as it also discusses skin color. Some people were brought up with messages that dark skin is unattractive and lighter skin is more attractive. A father may tell his son not to date a dark-skinned woman because he doesn’t want a dark-skinned grandchild, while a mother may tell her daughter to date a light-skin man so her child will have “good hair.” Chapter nine urges the reader to identify his or her own biases by another self-assessment test and then scoring it to see how biased they really are. Even if the reader isn’t biased, he or she needs to realize we live in a world where there are many groups of people. Hopson and Hopson discuss interracial dating and the effects it has on African-Americans. They warn that interracial daters may have the wrong agendas. Some Black men date white women as a trophy or a symbol of power and prestige. And the same goes for some Black women. She may feel that to reach a level of superiority, she has to hook up with a white man. Soul mates should be aware of these internal messages and talk about them and the effects they may or may not have had on each other.
Derek and Darlene Hopson close this educational book in chapter ten with a discussion of “family, friends and spirituality.” As with other topics family, friends and spirituality can be very sensitive topics and can hinder a relationship. Such topics are therefore very important to discuss. Family structure plays a big part in relationships. One person may come from a very big family which includes extended family, while the other may come from a single parent home and be the only child. Of course, each will hold family relationships in a different context. This chapter illustrates some guidelines on dealing with such issues. It also discusses why friendships are so important. The authors suggest a medium between a soul mate and a friend. Most people go one of two ways. Either they totally distance themselves from their friends when they get into a relationship or they keep friendships that are unhealthy while being in a relationship. Both people should admit when there are sexual feelings involved in a friendship and decide how to deal with them. The authors also bring up the very sensitive subject of religion. It is a well-known fact that Africans are a spiritual people, but nowadays, there are many different religions. Regardless of the belief, it is going to have some sort of impact on the views the couple may hold. Most of the time, a person’s religion is non-negotiable. It is important to know and understand that fact. If your partner doesn’t hold the same religious values you do, ask yourself questions, such as would you be willing to attend church alone, and would you be willing to attend services at your partner’s church?
Drs. Derek and Darlene Hopson sum up Friends, Lovers & Soulmates in their afterward. They recap the different methods they suggest on finding and maintaining a soul mate. They review that in order to understand the present, you must start with the past. For African-Americans, that past starts with Africa and moves to the United States when Africans were brought here to be slaves. That is where they believe the destruction began.
I have to say that I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Through the self-assessments exercises, I have learned so much about myself, who I am and what I want in my life. It has enabled me to regain my focus on life and to put energy into things that are positive. I have a new perspective on life and feel as if I am going in a very positive direction. One thing I can definitely say is that I appreciate the opinions and views of Drs. Derek and Darlene Hopson. Not once in this book did I find blame being placed solely on white supremacy for the actions of African-American men and women of today.
They do revert back to the scars slavery has left on the African-American people and how those actions are still affecting us today. However, the majority of the book illustrates and advises the readers to dig deep within ourselves to better ourselves by doing things like getting to know where we come from, why we are the way we are, and to move forward. The authors write about problems the past has caused and they also give solutions. Friends, Lovers & Soulmates has many self-assessment exercises to show us how to better ourselves and our partners. The authors provide step by step instructions on how to administer these tests and on effective ways of communication. This book doesn’t leave anyone out. I am currently single and I still found ways to make the book pertain to me. And another great thing is that even if the reader didn’t read the entire book, but just did the self-assessments, he or she would still learn an astonishing amount of information about themselves.
Until I started writing the summary on the book, I didn’t realize just how many self-assessments are in each chapter. While reading, it didn’t seem to be as many tests, but going back through the whole book, I noted just how many there are. I think these self-assessment tests help make the book as good as it is. I agree with so many of the philosophies in which the Hopsons’ state. Things such as the myths that are held about African-American men and women and how they relate so closely to the detrimental stereotypes started during slavery. I never thought about any of this until reading this book and taking an African American relationship course.
Other things outlined in the book that I could relate to are the communication styles. Reading chapter six really opened my eyes to how I really am. I know I can be aggressive but it is a different story when you are confronted with the truth about yourself. I will say that after reading this book, I am more aware of things I do and say and I try to think before I speak. I also find myself seeing different sides of the coin. I noticed this change after one of the articles I wrote about regarding infidelity. I had always thought “all men are dogs,” but not anymore. There are a few reasons why I don’t believe that cheating is only the cheaters fault. One, the cheater cheated because something wasn’t quite right at home. Two, the cheater was unfaithful because there are women out there that will accept less than they know they deserve, and are willing to engage in these secretive relationships. Three, because they aren’t sure why they feel the need to look elsewhere for attention even if they are getting it at home. Without educating themselves on where they come from and why they are the way they are, both African-American men and women are often on the short end of the stick.
Another thing I liked about the book was that it wasn’t geared towards just someone who is in a relationship. Someone who is single can thoroughly enjoy the book as well as gain plenty of inside perspective. The numerous self-assessments tests throughout the book can be done by a reader that is single, a reader that is single and looking for their soul mate, as well as a reader who is in a relationship and wondering if their partner is their soul mate or not.
The authors wrote in a way that is easy to understand and comprehend but without losing any of the book’s importance. From this book alone, I have gained so much knowledge and insight about my people and where my ancestors have come from. Also, after doing the genealogy report for the class, I am more interested than ever to ask my family questions about their past experiences and where we have come from. Between this book and this class, I understand more than ever the importance of my heritage and how it plays such a big role in the person I have become today. I feel as if my eyes have been opened to so much, and I am very anxious to learn more.
In the beginning of the class, I thought the professor was so educated in his field, but so naive in other aspects of the world. Only after coming to the end of the text and the class, do I understand so much more of his views. I see that in class discussions the professor wasn’t just disagreeing with the students, but playing the role of the devil’s advocate and educating us on the fact that the bigger picture and the larger group experiences are what is important. Although individuals have opinions and their opinions are valid, in order to see how society really is, the whole group must be examined.