I sat down with my laptop open in front of me, waiting for my phone to ring, something I can assuredly say that I have never done in my entire life. I am not a “wait by the phone” kind of girl, but when you are expecting a call from Karrine Steffans, things can change. I read over the seven very detailed questions I had hurriedly typed up in the hour before my “interview” with Steffans— the kind of stuff that anyone would expect to be asked after having written an extremely intimate portrayal of an extremely complicated relationship.
“What made you decide to be so open about your relationship right now?” “What makes this relationship ‘work’ so much more than your other relationships?” “How can you really be okay with the structure of this relationship?” “Do you feel guilty about prioritizing him over all the other men in your life?”
I am not one for interviews, though. I prefer conversations. From the minute we greeted each other, I knew the questions I had scripted would not be asked as I had written them. Conversations cannot be planned, and talking to a woman as fascinating as Steffans is like driving down a windy road. Don’t try to plan it out.
Steffans has just released her fifth book, How to Make Love to a Martian; the first under her own publishing company, Steffans Publishing. Steffans, a self-proclaimed “Hemingway,” in her writing style, considers herself more of an author than a writer. She claims she is not the celebrity type who decided to write a book, she describes herself as a crazy author, like a combination of Hemingway and Howard Hughes. Writing is her passion, first and foremost, and she truly has a way of expressing her realism through the written word.
I could not wait to get Steffans on the phone to tell her how refreshed I felt after reading Martian. I surprised myself, but I truly meant it. Steffans and I have a similar quality in our brutal honesty, and I am not the type to tell someone, or not tell someone, exactly how I feel about something. If I did not enjoy her story, I would have told her so. As a 25-year-old young woman, I related to Steffans’ story of love much more than I had anticipated. And, according to Steffans, I am not alone.
“I’ve heard that, you know, a lot, and I feel like, as an author, and as a writer, and when this is what you do… this is what you want to hear. And I’ve never heard that before. With all the books, with all the bestsellers, with all the millions of copies, I’ve never heard what I’m hearing with Martian. There’s a huge reason for that, and I know what the difference is, and I’m happy to make the decision to do it when I did it.”
So, what is the difference? Martian is Steffans’ fifth book, but clearly her most personal, for anytime one chooses to write on an extremely significant relationship, it is bound to get personal.
Lil’ Wayne, also known as Dwayne Carter, Jr., is a world famous rap star. I am sure you know his name, since most people do. Associated with some of the biggest names in music, over the past 15 years Carter has made quite a name for himself. Steffans and Carter met a little over six years ago, immediately connecting on a level that has kept them coming back to each other through all of life’s hardships.
Steffans decided to finally write her story of loving Carter partially because she was stuck in a completely hopeless place in her personal life. In discussing the months before Martian was born, Steffans describes the “dark place” she could not pull herself out of, until one day, a person she had been seeing finally pushed her, unintentionally, I am sure, into the light.
The unnamed man told Steffans that she was a loser, going on to cut her deeper than probably necessary. Steffans describes his words, “He was like, ‘You think you’re somebody special because you wrote a book? You’re nobody. You’re miserable, you hate your miserable life, and you’re nothing.’ And he said that to me during a time where I was already feeling just different. I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t perform.”
Being kicked when she was down was something that “broke” her, and thankfully it did. For ten days, Steffans couldn’t do anything. She did not open her computer, or write, or speak to anyone; she lived within her own head. She and her son suddenly moved from their apartment, breaking their lease, and checking into a hotel to escape the inner torture that consumed her. For ten and a half weeks, Steffans “Hemingway-ed” it, found her words, and a few months later, Martian was born. She knew she wanted to write; clearly her dark place was because she had not been able to do so.
Focusing on the phrase “how to make love,” while reading about Carter on the Internet in a room full of smoke, wine, and friends, the title came to her: How to Make Love to a Martian. When I asked Steffans if she had struggled with being as open as she is about her love story, she quipped back immediately, “I never struggle with the truth. I struggle with cryptic shit. Encryption is a road block when I’m writing.”
I concurred, for my writing has been criticized for being “too open” as well, though on a much lesser scale than Steffans- partially because none of my ex-boyfriends have a bunch of Grammys. Steffans went on to admit, “I can’t connect with the words, I can’t connect with myself, I’m not going to be able to write,” when she is not being fully honest.
Talking to Steffans, or reading her words, is like stepping off of an airplane and breathing in the fresh air again. Her honesty is admirable, and real. And those things are pretty rare.
So how do you make love to a martian? Steffans’ book is not about having sex. It is not a how-to; it is not an answer to all of the many complicated questions that will forever surround relationships. It is simply a story, and quite the unfinished one at that. But aren’t the best stories unfinished? How is anyone expected to tell a love story with a conclusion? There is never a conclusion to love. Steffans writes on her intense bond with Carter with such an open realism, anyone who has ever been in love will be able to relate.
The best part of a conversation is what you are still thinking about by the end of the day, hours after you have said goodbye.
When I finished Steffans’ book, the line, “We became each other,” which is written in the first chapter of Martian, was stuck in my head. When I was finished talking to Steffans, ten hours after I had hung up the phone with her, the thing that encompassed my thoughts was the concept of “unconditional love.”
Unconditional love is powerful, maybe too much to ever understand in whole. There are some who claim that unconditional love is only reserved for those who share your bloodline: your mother, your son, your brothers, your father, but perhaps those people have never connected to another human being with such force as Steffans feels when it comes to Carter. She believes in it, though.
Has Carter broken her heart? Absolutely, in fact, he still does it all the time. Does Carter see other people? Yes. Does Steffans see other people? Yes. They both have children by other people; they do not have a child together. There is no white picket fence surrounding a home they own together. The structure of their relationship is unfamiliar, something we are not conditioned to think of as functional, or “normal.” But what is normal, anyway? And why would anyone strive for normalcy, when, as Steffans reminds us, the divorce rate in this country is insanely high.
“Unconditional love is viewed as wrong,” Steffans states. She has taken plenty of flack from her friends about her choice to remain committed, in her heart, at least, to Carter. Her friends will ask her, after a fight, or a heated exchange that leaves Steffans upset, “Doesn’t this change how you feel about him?” Of course it does not change how she feels about him. Steffans relates with the example, “If your husband looked at you right now and said, ‘I don’t love you anymore,’ does that automatically mean you don’t love him?’ Then how strong was that love, and was that ever love?’ Like, ‘I’m going to love you as long as you love me.’” That is what Steffans (and I very much agree) considers “conditional” love, which anyone can have, and most people probably have settled for.
Steffans felt compelled to write this book not just to tell her story, to further illustrate the reason she feels the way she does about Carter, but ultimately, she wrote this book for Carter. “I wrote this book for him,” she says, to let him know all of the things she felt about him in their in-between times, to let him know what he has done for her, what he has supplied her with: strength and happiness.
I will admit, while reading Martian, I was initially a little disturbed. I fell victim to thinking what I am sure plenty of other people think, what is wrong with this girl? She puts up with so much from this man who seems to love her, but not know how to handle that love— what with his unusual career, his other relationships, his busy schedule, whatever it may be that gets in the way of his heart. Their relationship seemed like a double standard. Carter very publicly (like all things in his life) had relationships with multiple other women, but Steffans was not allowed to speak on other men without Carter becoming upset with her. It seemed unfair, like Steffans poured her heart and soul and put her life on hold to be with him, but Carter put half as much effort into their relationship. Everything seemed so backward.
And then I finished the book, and I could not stop thinking about how socially constructed my view on their relationship, and all relationships, is.
When Steffans talks about Carter, either to me, or in her book, (which also felt like she was talking to me), I responded strongly to her words. Her feelings for Carter had me reminiscing about the lack of normalcy in my own relationships. No one believes that a woman can be truly happy in something that is not a roses-delivered-to-your-office kind of relationship.
Because society constructs us to believe that a woman should never settle, and this kind of relationship? We are forced to believe it is settling. But listen to the woman, you guys. Listen to her, and have faith that she just may know exactly what she is talking about. She may know exactly how she feels. She may just be exactly right about her own life.
Steffans is very in tune with her feelings, and she is confident enough to state her opinion as fact. After reading her words, and listening to her describe her experiences, I believe in unconditional love much more than I thought I could. I am still young, and maybe I have had that connection with someone, and maybe I haven’t, but toward the end of the conversation, Steffans said, “When you say ‘unconditional,’ Jessica, think about all of your relationships. Every man you’ve ever loved, it has always been conditional, but there may have been that one person…”
There is that one person.
When Steffans talks about Carter, she says, straight up she will not stop loving him. She will not, she will not, she will not. And the people in her life who are uncomfortable with that will have to remain uncomfortable with it, because she will love him forever, unconditionally.
“As long as he’s there, I’m happy,” Steffans told me, as I started to tear up. Unconditional love is, “not wanting all of someone, all the time. Just knowing that they are there, and knowing that they feel what you feel when you feel it. You can fight, and argue, and fall apart, but you always come back together.”
And when she is asked, “Are you still with Wayne?” Steffans is ready.
“I am always with Wayne.”
“How to Make Love to a Martian” is available for purchase for $2.99 on Kindle, iBooks or Nook. Follow Karrine on Twitter @KarrineandCo.