Almost Doesn’t Count, But We Let It

In a few hours, the highly anticipated Verzuz celebration between R&B icons Monica and Brandy will be underway. Like many of you since the news broke, I have had both artists’ music on repeat and binge-watched their music videos, interviews, and any other content that would help me prepare for the historic moment. Brandy and Monica provided many songs to the soundtrack of my life as a 90’s baby. Indulging in the music and characters that I grew up seeing and hearing is undoubtedly nostalgic, but also reflective. I’m not the same girl that used to let the Space Jam credits play just so I could hear “For You I Will” or rushed home after school to catch an episode of “Moesha.” I’ve experienced many things since the days of VHS tapes, and the familiar songs that I am now revisiting hit a bit different.

The familiar songs that I am now revisiting hit a bit different.

As I bombarded YouTube with Brandy and Monica search entries, one song resonated with me deeply. It is a tale of a girl who found herself faced with a relationship that did not play out the way she hoped. Rather than hold on to the situation for what it had the potential to be, she took it for what it was. That realization led her to proclaim beautifully that “almost doesn’t count.”

Brandy Norwood, a Mississippi native like myself, recorded “Almost Doesn’t Count” for her second album “Never Say Never” in 1998. Although Brandy immortalized the song with her unmatched vocals, “Almost Doesn’t Count” was co-written by songwriters Shelly Peiken and Guy Roche. Shelly’s motivation for the lyrics stemmed from an “unrequited love I [she] had for a boy in college” as told on her Instagram page. If you can’t relate to that feeling, keep living. As a 20-something year old woman, I could not relate to the lyrics more. But a different aspect of the situation stands out to me now.

“Almost Doesn’t Count” is a courageous confession from a woman who realized that a man she desired had yet to become all that she needed him to be to make their relationship work. I say courageous because how many of us would be real enough with ourselves to admit that someone that we want isn’t who we need? And actually let them go? Despite the moments they had which led up to a crossroads in the first place, it was apparent that they had to part ways. At least until more definitive behavior was shown.

With that understanding, the song sheds light on how much we’ve deviated from (or never even reached) this notion since the song was released over 20 years ago. Of course there are some people who do not stand for an “almost” or incomplete effort. They require the love they know they deserve. But it seems that so many people take “almost” for what it’s worth and try to build on it. “Almost made you love me” seems more like “You’re gonna love me” nowadays. Instead of cutting their losses, some would rather meet people where they are than try to find another. Despite how promising it feels at times, that’s settling.

Almost doesn’t count, but we let it. It’s like the participation trophy for relationships. No you did not come through for me. But you wanted to, and I will reward that. No you did not change your destructive ways, but you almost did. So I’ll honor that. You are not where you need to be, but you are not where you used to be. It’s an acknowledgement of all the ways people come up short in their efforts to secure our love, but we give them the prize anyway in hopes that they’ll eventually rise to the occasion. There is much to be respected about someone who tries. That’s the first step to achieving anything. But this timeless song challenges us to face the clear dichotomy of our relationships. Either it is or it ain’t. 

“Face the clear dichotomy of our relationships. Either it is or it ain’t.”

Music has brought us quite a few famous “almost”s. Most of which had us looking back.  Brandy’s idol, Whitney Houston, had us looking back at love with “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.” Tamia had us looking back at a missed opportunity for love with her song “Almost.” But Brandy had us to look forward to a “no doubt, be there kinda” love. There is reminiscence in some aspects of “Almost Doesn’t Count,” but it offers hope for a better future where she’s not loving someone with “one foot outside the door.” It’s an unapologetic reclamation of her time from someone who was “never really sure.”

This song doesn’t close the door entirely on the possibility that things could work out. “Maybe you’ll be sorry…maybe you’ll come running back from a cruel, cruel world.” But it maintains the need to prioritize self first. “Maybe I’ll be here. Maybe I’ll see you around.” You’re not obligated to stick around until someone figures things out. Because in doing so, they may decide to move on without you once they finally have it all together. That’s a tale as old as time. The key is to be so whole within yourself that an “almost” effort from someone else would be a downgrade from what you have alone. You wouldn’t feel compelled to accept it just for the sake of having someone. Instead, you’ll be positioned to wait things out until you find someone that you can really be down for. 

You’re not obligated to stick around until someone figures things out.

This realization and Verzuz battle could not have come at a better time. It will be a much-needed, although brief, escape from the perils of the pandemic, the fights for justice and equality, and the looming presidential election. Then the resounding loss of our King, Chadwick Boseman, at the age of 43 has many reeling in a swarm of emotions. His legacy challenges us to connect with our own purpose and passion while his sudden loss reminds us that time is fleeting and filled with swift transition. In Boseman’s own words, “You have to cherish things in a different way when you know the clock is ticking, you are under pressure.” There is no time to coddle people into keeping their promises to you or making their intentions clear. Don’t read between lines that aren’t there. Be honest with yourself. Be direct with others. End relationships that do not serve you. Stop rewarding potential with your best. Stop giving almost your all. “That’s the way it goes. Almost doesn’t count.”

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