This week [March 18-22, 2013] JETmag.com is giving away copies of Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community. The new anthology contains personal stories from celebrities and major public figures on love, relationships and marriage in the Black community. Click here for a chance to win a free copy and read below for a brief excerpt.
By//Dr. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy
The first example that I had a loving relationship came from my mother and father. I was raised in a two-parent household and unlike many of my friends and family members, I always had an example of what it looked like to have a couple who were fighting for the value of continuing a family. What I remember from my youngest days was that my parents were willing to invest in my welfare and the welfare of their relationship. While there was romantic love between them, what I recognized was their deep commitment to provide love to their children.
My parents worked constantly to provide my sister and me with a portrait of what it means to be a unit. I learned how you share love openly and that love is not a finite or limited resource. Love is something that the more you give, the more you get.
Growing up I automatically assumed that I would have a partner. I always thought that I would marry someone, and have a wife. But as I got older, I began to question if that was a reasonable expectation or a necessary one. I have had a number of family and good friends who have had good relationships in which they were not married or have not been in life long partnerships and maintain happiness in their lives. Though I am married today, I still do not necessarily think we need everyone to marry. We often hear marriage thrown around as a solution to Black woes, it is not. What will help the Black community are healthy relationships that come in many forms: life-long partnerships, civil unions, marriages and more.
In college I began to wonder about how fundamental marriage had to be in my life. I knew that I wanted to be in a space where I could express love and have love expressed to me, but I also knew that marriage came with a lot of distinct challenges. The idea that you would love someone and live with them for the rest of your life was daunting. How do you make decisions about someone that you’ll be with for the rest of your life when you’ve only known each other for a few years?
After entering into adulthood, I knew that whenever I was intimate with a woman, the chance that I was going to be in a long-term partnership with her was significantly increased. So I had to explore where I wanted to spend my time and ask, “Who do I want to be with and does my life purpose allow for a partner?” I have a strong feeling that everyone comes to this planet with a purpose. That purpose is individual but is for the collective good.
As I looked at some of the largest examples provided by Black male leadership, I saw them as towering figures, but their relationships to their partners appeared challenging to me. To read some of the writings around the relationship between Martin and Coretta King or the relationship between Malcolm and Betty or even fast forward to the relationship between Barack and Michelle. Often times when someone’s calling is to be a servant to the community, what they have done is forsaken their partner. In several places, Michelle comments that she felt like being with him was like being a single mother and raising their children alone.
I didn’t want to be in a relationship that made me or my partner feel single.
Before I was ready to commit to be someone’s life partner, I wanted to get a better sense for what I was called to do. I didn’t want to automatically assume that I should have a partner, because I believe that my partner’s dreams have to at least be complimentary. In looking for a life partner, I needed our ideas, goals and purpose to be in sync. I didn’t want to be the person who spent a great deal of time working on his career and purpose only to functionally neglect his partner. Sadly, I have seen the neglecting of a partner much more than I’ve seen healthy relationships within the Black community. I didn’t want that pattern to continue with me.
Today, Black men who are achieving success in terms of college degrees, and acquiring wealth know that they are desirable and too often they treat that fact like it offers them carte blanche. They know that when it comes to dating the numbers are on their side. Now generally across race or class most men have been socialized to “sow their wild oats” – to go out, “experiment”, and live their lives freely. When you add to that message to a limited number of men who are eligible in terms of credentials (educational attainment, employment status, etc.) to marry, you have a recipe that is potentially damming for Black marriages.
It’s kind of like when you’re young and wanted to have fun – eat candy, soda and chocolate. It’s enjoyable for a moment, but then it becomes very unfulfilling. In fact, it makes you down right sick. Unfortunately, too many brothers have not realized we’re not only hurting our potential partners but also ourselves. The more I’ve grown and watch my friends grow we realized that the enjoyment of “playing the field” is temporary and if you are seeking relationships that have meaning and that offer support for you to grow, versus simply just using women, something has to change. That change is something that’s often internal, it can’t be taught, mandated or coerced, it’s part of maturation into a healthy adulthood.
It’s very difficult to make a relationship successful. I am someone who believes that if I am to going to have a commitment, as a sociologist and Black man, to enriching the lives of Black people that I should be living a life that is healthy and uplifting example. I realized that many of the practices that my peers and I had were not healthy for ourselves individually, nor for the community collectively. So I decided to get myself ready for the task.
Once I figured out that my purpose, would allow me to have a mate, and that we could be complimentary in our walk in life, I was like, “Let’s see who is out there.” Now I didn’t grab a checklist with the 15 categories that I needed, but it was the start of me taking seriously the possibility of finding a life partner. Of course finding a fitting partner and building a relationship that is healthy is difficult and takes work. Ultimately, dating and marriage are works in progress because you never perfect it, you adapt and evolve to survive and thrive. But when I felt committed and able to engage in that work of building a relationship, I did. When I felt committed and able to bring enough to the table where I was clear on who I was, I brought it. When I had the ability to see partners and their potential and really identify them for who they were and not who I perceived them to be, was when I knew that I was ready to find someone who I could walk through this life with and build something greater.
Dr. R L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York – CUNY. I specialize in racial and ethnic relations with research and activism that concentrates on educational inequality, race-related public policy, and gender equity.