Relationships as we see it nowadays will have you wondering if you’re built for one. From entanglements to splitting the bills, there is much to be considered about what actually goes into making a relationship work. Growing up, a common phrase I often heard used to describe a loyal partner was “ride-or-die.” I was okay with the “ride” part, depending on where we were going. Hopefully, into the sunset. But that “die” part always prevented me from wanting to know how far my loyalty could go. Thankfully, time and music introduced me to another (less lethal) scenario of loyalty and compromise. I heard Gladys Knight sing of a ride that she was down to take with her man. Thankfully, it was just to Georgia.
In “Midnight Train to Georgia”, Gladys Knight sings about a man who left his home in pursuit of a dream. She never specified exactly what that dream consisted of besides becoming a superstar. All that we know is, that dream unfortunately did not come true. “So he pawned all his hopes. And he even sold his old car. Bought a one-way ticket back to the life he once knew.” At that point, Gladys, or the lady from whose perspective she is singing, is faced with an ultimatum: “live in his world” or “live without him in mine.”
Of course she makes the loving decision to stick by her man and go back to Georgia. It is an example of unwavering support. When I ask myself what I would have done, the answer isn’t as clear cut as the lyrics of the song. I find myself thinking, “Well, what did she have going on? Did she have a job, career, or dream of her own? Had she established anything in Georgia or L.A. that would have been worth staying for?” Immediately following those thoughts, I begin to wonder if those questions are selfish. Would I be expected to give up that kind of thinking in a relationship or marriage? It felt as if I would be de-prioritizing myself to support my man. Would that train of thought keep me a single woman?
Would that train of thought keep me a single woman?
As I grow more prepared for a relationship, maybe I’ll understand why the woman in the song chose to board that train to Georgia. I’m sure she made sacrifices to go to L.A. the first time and again upon her man’s decision to return. Perhaps pleading her case to stay in either place was not worth losing whatever they stood to gain by leaving. We know that the man was not successful by certain measures, but who knows what it did for him to have a woman by his side who loved him through every outcome? All that we can hope is that reciprocity was shown when it came to her own endeavors.
When I was in college, a faculty member I highly respected described to me the time when she and her husband pursued their doctoral degrees. She mentioned that as her husband worked to get his Ph.D., she was simultaneously working on her PHT. It was obvious that I didn’t know what she meant by that, so she elaborated that PHT was “push hubby through.” Of course we laughed at that, but it stuck with me. Her focus was to see her husband through to an expected end. I don’t know the details of their situation at the time. I believe they relocated for him to attend school in the north, and I can’t recall if she worked a job. I’m sure they both left behind family and friends. But it was worthwhile for her to shift her focus to ensuring that her husband had what he needed from her to achieve the goal that uprooted them. When he graduated and landed a job, she went on to pursue her doctoral degree. She told me about the perils she faced as the lone Black woman in her program at a predominantly white institution. But I imagine her husband’s experience equipped him to support her through it as she did for him.
Her focus was to see her husband through to an expected end.
Everyone isn’t fortunate enough to have that kind of reciprocity. In fact, I think the fear of not having love and support returned is what keeps some of us from giving our all in pursuit of love. So we make bare minimum efforts and investments so that we can reduce our losses in the event we decide to pull out at the first sign of trouble. Consider the situations in which someone supports their loved one until they become successful, but get left behind. Or if you’re left to endure the anguish that could remain when a person’s dreams don’t come true. Think about Troy Maxson in Fences (2016) and his rants about not becoming a professional baseball player against his reality as a sanitation worker. Although Troy is a fictional character, you may know real people whose life didn’t measure up to their expectations. Instead of making the most of it, they take their anger out on those closest to them. That midnight train ride didn’t ensure that peace was ahead. But there is no insurance policy in love. There is no way to ensure that you will get a return on investment or recover any time, energy, money, etc., that is expended in the pursuit of requited love. You just do what you feel is best for the sake of love at the time and pray that the outcome favors you both.
Despite any reservations I have from the words in “Midnight Train to Georgia,” the answer to my questions are therein. Love. As the song nears the end, the phrase “for love” is repeated before Gladys proclaims “I got to go.” If you are in a healthy, loving relationship, I believe compromise will lend itself more as a contribution to the progression of the relationship. As either of you are enhanced, so is the other. I just hope that my man and I will be willing to board life’s trains (literal or figurative) for one another. As we relinquish the idea of “my world, his world,” we’ll give way to “our world, mine and his alone.”
But those are marriage privileges. Another topic.