It’s a well-worn trope of the romance genre. Boy meets girl, woos the girl, and promptly screws up by betraying girl’s trust in some stupid, misguided, performatively masculine way. The boy then pulls out all the stops in a final, last-ditch, third act effort to get the girl back with a grand, romantic gesture. Said gesture allows him to “sacrifice himself on the altar of dignity” and evens the score. Boy humiliates himself in public for the girl’s benefit, she takes him back, and the credits roll with the assurance that all is now right in their relationship, without anyone proving that they’ve actually come to terms with all the reasons it went wrong in the first place. That’s exactly what Offset tried to do at Rolling Loud this past weekend when he interrupted his wife Cardi B’s set with bouquets of flowers and an ostensibly earnest request to take him back.
There’s a problem with that trope though. It’s a male-focused one, assuming that the boy in this scenario is only embarrassing himself, that the girl wants to see the boy embarrassed, that keeping score is more important than open, honest communication and consistent behavior that reinforces trust. Any idiot can buy flowers, candy, and jewelry or hire a skywriter. The problem with big, public apologies is that they put women on the spot, too. They weaponize social expectations and the audience to subconsciously peer pressure the “girl” — who is really, usually a grown woman with her own needs, wants, opinions, and broken heart to mend — into accepting the boy’s overture — despite the “boy” really being a man, who has likely knowingly broken his partner’s trust and just feels guilty about being the bad guy. That’s exactly what Offset really did with his clumsy gesture, besides inconveniencing his wife at work and throwing her performance into disarray.
Now, seemingly every social media user with an interest in hip-hop or either of the performers involved is weighing in on what Offset should do, what Cardi should do, what Rolling Loud did or should have done, whether or not it was all a publicity stunt. Because it was so public a gesture, it invites public scrutiny, and that’s where Offset really screwed up. His prior actions have already put an embarrassing spotlight on Cardi and on their relationship, which has been tumultuous from the word go. There have been rumors of cheating, a break-up scare, a private wedding, and a public proposal. The last thing anyone who’s just ended such a public relationship wants is to have to address even more public probing. Most of us want and need time to ourselves in wake of a breakup to lick our wounds, assess our situations, reprioritize our goals and adjust our schedules in private. There’s a whole life to recollect and plan for, and the spectacle makes all that so much harder.
It must be practically impossible for Cardi not to second-guess her decision — a decision she made to protect herself from more hurt and embarrassment — when everyone from concerned colleagues like 21 Savage and her publicist to complete strangers like the crowd at Rolling Loud and the perpetual peanut gallery that is Rap Twitter telling her she needs to accept Offset’s offer of reconciliation. Unfortunately, because of “romantic” grandstanding in movies — which are almost always written by men — society expects men to be forgiven, even when they’re the ones who screwed up in the first place. Public overtures like Offset’s often reek of entitlement; men deserve second chances (and third, fourth, fifth, and sixth ones) and men deserve to be heard out, even when their actions have spoken louder than their words. Somewhere deep down in his subconscious, Offset recognized this and tried to use it to his advantage.
Plenty of people love the big, climactic moment in the romance movie when the boy stops the plane, makes the big speech and gets the girl back. That’s why so many people are in Offset’s corner. But Cardi has fought too hard and too long to carve out her own space in the public eye and earn her place as an artist. To lose sight of her in her own relationship only negates all that hard work and perpetuates a harmful trope that says what a man wants is more important than what his partner deserves — love, trust, and respect. Happy endings are for movies and little kids. In real life, you have to do the work.