Love can be an exuberant, fulfilling, and positively intense experience. Many people might associate this feeling with how they see themselves or how others treat them, but what if love becomes toxic? What if it becomes dangerous enough that it affects your mental, emotional, and physical health?

These were questions Monique John pondered during one of the most distressing times in her life. In 2018, John, a journalist originally from New York, launched a blog site and podcast addressing some of the most intimate and painful details of her abusive relationship while chasing her dream as a foreign correspondent in Monrovia, Liberia.

Her culture and lifestyle platform, The Correspondante, is home to the podcast entitled, Cuckquean, a 10-part drama series detailing her daily experiences as a Black-American woman navigating her “disastrous” relationships and professional life as a reporter during Liberia’s presidential elections. Her story has emboldened readers to chase after their dreams, “regardless of how lofty and intimidating” the challenges may be.

John's journey began in 2015, after enduring what many young professionals deal with after college. Navigating her budding career in the digital and local television news space, balancing finances in an overly expensive city, all while delving into the crazy dating scene. “I was unhappy with life in New York. I took immense pride in my freelance work but wasn’t being properly compensated for it. I demanded more of myself as a journalist, John explained. “I had never lived outside of New York, and in order to set myself apart, I felt that working internationally would give me a competitive edge.”

Photo: Monique John

It was a formative time for John. Her former classmates and colleagues knew her for her strong leadership skills and self-confidence, but John battled with a set of life-altering events that further reinforced the idea to uproot her life and leave the country. “I was diagnosed with a lifelong illness all while dealing with the trauma of being date raped at my home in Brooklyn,” she said. “I was embarrassed for investing in men who didn’t value me and violated me. It was the perfect storm to take reigns of my life. I was ashamed to talk about it. I was depressed. It was my breaking point.” Eventually, she left her job at an online women’s magazine, stopped writing, shut down her social media pages, and fell out of contact with many friends and colleagues. During that period, she found it difficult to find employment. She knew it was time to make a drastic change.

Photo: Monique John

John thought up a “crazy” idea to work in the home countries of her former African love interests while writing about her experiences. Her first love interest happened to be from Liberia. “Liberia is a rather small country, still recovering from the results of its civil war,” John said. “And there have been movements geared toward fighting for the end of gender-based and sexual violence against women.”

In August 2017, she finally moved to Monrovia with few connections as part of her goal to grow professionally and heal mentally and emotionally. John worked as a freelance reporter for Voice of America and a consultant for development firms and aid organizations in the region. Working for herself gave her a sense of independence, strength, and hustle a businesswoman needed while establishing a brand in a foreign country. Being able to finally set out doing what she wanted to do was a great accomplishment for John, but the first year was a tough pill to swallow.

It was difficult protecting herself as a freelancer. In Cuckquean, she expressed the cons of her clients not paying her on time for completed assignments, which put her finances in jeopardy. John wasn’t sure she was going to make it until she connected with her then ex-boyfriend, Boris, who sent her life into a complete whirlwind.

Photo: Monique John

“When I first met Boris, I wasn’t attracted to him. He was kind and humble. Eventually, I broke down to his advances and agreed to go on a couple of dates with him,” John explained. “He took care of me when I was in need.”

Due to a hostile living situation with her landlord, John eventually opted to live with Boris. Soon enough, she started to see a change in his behavior. She recalled a number of sexual and emotionally abusive situations. John endured everything from unwanted sexual advances to cheating. She couldn’t afford to leave him with her physical and financial state. John noticed similar "reckless" behavior in the workplace as well. “While covering the elections I noticed some male journalists and government officials didn’t have boundaries,” John said. “I would conduct an outreach of experts for a news story, and at the end of the meetings, they would ask me out on a date or blow up my Facebook messenger to discuss matters unrelated to the job.”

Photo: Monique John

Each occurrence hindered her comfort in pursuing the story. When John had plans of airing Cuckquean at a radio station, her personal boundaries were crossed yet again by the radio station’s prominent show host. “He was interested in my podcast, but the conversation ended with him expressing romantic interest,” John said. “He told me he was in the process of divorcing his wife who was based in the U.S."

Fed up with the situation, John decided to stand up for herself. She no longer wanted to continue down the same cycle. She worked on developing a healthier lifestyle by doing morning meditations, attending church, writing, exercising, and being intentional with what she wore that brought out her confidence. Finally, she ended all communication with those who came in the way of her career ambitions.

John said she learned about Monrovia the hard way. Feminist writers were “subjected to negativity and the struggle of tackling sexual coercion.” Cuckquean opened doors for criticism and support in the community. “A local Liberian activist said it helped her with domestic violence in her marriage,” said John. “She felt that she couldn’t speak publically for fear of being alienated and ostracized. My vulnerability was fortifying for many women who saw me holding Liberian men accountable for their actions that they are granted impunity for. It was a great source of amusement and encouragement through their most difficult times."

Many didn’t approve of her depiction of her experience in Monrovia. John saw even greater criticism by men who felt implicated by her story. “I ruffled some feathers with my podcast,” John said. “Some men felt that I was too critical. They thought Cuckquean didn’t paint the society in a good light. It became a real source of embarrassment for them."

“It’s important to recognize that if you open your body and space for someone, take your time to know their intentions. I came to Liberia on a spiritual journey reflecting on my horrible relationships in the past and to have a better sense of self-awareness for my self-care,” said John. “I want my testimony to encourage women to be more assertive and demanding for what they want in life and to know that their truth matters.”

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