The Love That Raised Me
My parents aren’t together. My dad’s parents aren’t together, my mom’s weren’t. My best friend’s aren’t. Out of my 10+ aunts and uncles, I can name two that are in long-ish term, seemingly stable, healthy relationships. One of those is a third marriage, too, so take that as you will.
I, like much of my generation, didn’t grow up with a model romantic love in proximity to my life. I don’t recall ever looking at anybody I knew personally and thinking, that’s the kind of love I want. “Parent’s don’t always stay together,” “People change,” and “You have to do what makes you happy.”
That’s what I grew up hearing. That’s what I learned about love.
It wasn’t all bleak though, you see. I had movies. And music.
I had Dru Hill refusing to make promises they couldn’t keep, Jagged Edge teaching me how to propose. I had Monica and Q finding their way back to each other, even after years of not communicating, because their bond was that strong. I had the Oohchie Wally’s of the world too, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve always been someone that clung to the positive imagery, and seeing that love, black love, was possible had a profound effect on me. We talk a lot about media and kids being impressionable, but my outlook then was the same as it is now: if it’s being represented widely in some popular fashion, there’s probably some truth in it, even if it’s not the obvious or apparent truth. And all I needed to believe in love as an iota of truth. Besides, the creators of these depictions have to have loved like this to enliven this contrived perception...right? It was real at some point in time, even if only for a moment. And so that became the love that raised me.
I was naive. From the time I was a child until my senior year of high school, I believed that I was looking for my soulmate. Every day. I thought any girl I dated would be the last one I would date, that we would stay together and build together and eventually get married and have kids and a dog and a black picket fence because this ain’t Pleasantville, but I’m still trying to live good. I was naive.
Just before the beginning of my senior year in high school, after having been cheated on by the umpteeth girlfriend for the umpteenth time, one of my young female friends changed my life. “You’re a good guy, you’re just too serious. You want to fall in love. Nobody our age is really looking for that.”
I had never considered that people might be out here building relationships, dating, and having sex with people that they didn’t intend on loving. Even though I didn’t have any good model relationships to refer to from my close personal relations, I assumed all their relationships had been functional ones with good intentions until they started to deteriorate. The thought that somebody would willingly enter a romantic relationship scenario with no commitment to building a faithful, collaborative romantic relationship blew my mind.
It didn’t take me long to adjust to being trifling. Trifling with a twist, I should say. I always felt the honesty in letting women know I was not interested in dating them or that I wasn’t exclusive with them was paramount, for posterity and for safety. But I was also playing in the thorns and complaining when I got scratched up. People threw around terms like “hook-up culture,” and “no love generation,” and I kind of figured, hell, if I can’t beat them, I’ll join them.
But I didn’t last very long. It wasn’t fun to have to dip and dodge and pretend to nurture a bunch of different relationships that were really just based on sex and surface level connection. I found myself yearning for something more, something deeper, but with each failed attempt, thrust back onto the side of the spectrum that preferred quantity over quality relationships because “nobody our age wants that anyway.” I was embarrassed at how naive I had been. This was a changing generation, with black women (my love interests) excelling academically and professionally, not believing or embracing the gender roles so often thrust upon them by less progressive people. These women don’t need us, so maybe they’re not looking for us, I thought. And if they can choose who they want, they probably don’t want me.
Those are my problems, not y’alls, haha. But my experiences in life, loving, learning and growing have made me sensitive and critical to how we teach and socialize young people around the concept of love. Young people including ourselves and our peers. I didn’t get to see a healthy romantic love growing up. I didn’t get to experience one. I was never taught about one. I’m not ashamed to say that my conception of romantic love, what I feel like I need to be in a successful relationship with somebody, is strongly tied to my conception of the most important connections that I have in my life; my friendships. I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about what I consider a partner and what I consider a friend, and how they’re different, if at all. I’ll save you the suspense; not very.
But I was actively taught friendship. I had multiple friends, we had trials and tribulations. My parents had the same, and friendship talk was much less taboo than relationship talk in my home, so I received those lessons. I saw those examples. And those are the connections that I came to value. The concept of people “sticking around for the sake of the investment in the relationship” is wild to me, because as a friend, a pure platonic friend, that doesn’t compute. I won’t allow anybody to stifle or stunt themselves to benefit me. If that must be done, this isn’t the love for us.
What does love mean? I have no freaking idea. But I know what it means to me. I know how to give it, how to exemplify my understanding of it. I know how to communicate my needs, to work through conflicts, to collaborate and compromise, to trust, to listen, to support. I know how to be a friend, and to me, that’s one large step toward what it means to be a partner. I only wonder if we could take a more active approach to teaching young folks what love, a healthy, sustaining love, looks like, how the world would be different. We, of course, would have to find that love first to be able to analyze, understand, and subsequently communicate it. Those of you who’ve been fortunate enough to experience it, lend us a hand. Show us some love.