Lately, conversations and articles about black life tend to revolve around being a single black woman with limited partnering options and being a single black couple that should work toward the eternal goal of getting and staying married. I woke up and read an article on Essence.com stating couples who live together before getting married don’t fare better than couples who don’t. I’d had enough.
There are successful, loving relationships that don’t involve marriage, just as there are married ones. I’m not knocking marriage and for anyone who wants to go that route, peace and blessings. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to walk that path. Some people do because that’s what they’ve been taught since Hector was a pup. After a failed marriage though, I had to ask myself some questions about beliefs I accepted as my own because they were handed down to me from my parents and grandparents.What I realized is the form of the commitment, cohabiting, married or otherwise, didn’t mean more to me than the quality of the relationship, regardless of religious and social acceptance. I am happier in the second year of our cohabiting relationship than I ever was married.
But let me be honest about why things are better, which I think is overlooked a lot by the media’s reporting on the state of love, black love in particular. In an age where instant gratification is the norm, we expect our relationships to be the same. Getting to know who you’ve accepted as a partner in your life doesn’t take a couple months. My cousin told me once that someone older and wiser said you don’t know a person until you’ve been through at least four seasons with them. The me you met at the Fourth of July barbecue is not the same me you’ll experience hibernating around New Year’s Eve. I’m less social during the winter months and if you loved social butterfly D, you’ll be real unhappy when Betty Crocker and a few extra pounds show up around Nov. 1. Is my core personality different? No, but how I exhibit that is. I digress though. People spend countless hours on the phone, going to events they love and work the representatives because they want someone to see and acknowledge their best qualities. People are mating, sending out signals, receiving signals and daydreaming about the possibilities as they decide to see where things lead. They want to rush through the getting-to-know stage and get right to committing.
Like I wrote above, I had to ask myself some questions and the first one I asked was why my long-term relationships in the past failed. I realized I was a victim of the rush syndrome. In order to avoid the same pitfall, I had to stop and make a conscious effort to listen, learn and take my time. Our first decision was to see if we could be friends and not sleep together because a relationship is more than the tricks in our Lion’s Den bags. We made it. Even got through the dating phase and that the phase where we realized the other person has some habits or traits that we don’t necessarily like, but certainly aren’t deal breakers. We see each other as a person, with strong and weak qualities, and decided with love in our hearts, that we choose to stand together and agree to work on making our thing stronger. And that’s when everyone wants to know when we’re getting married. Sigh.
We don’t want to get married though. We choose to cohabit. We’ve been through some hard times already. He was there for me when I hit an emotional wall, a place I didn’t even know existed in me. I was there for him when he needed a back rub and to simply hear the words “I’m not going anywhere”. We’ve been through more good ones though and that’s what matters. Some of the same people who would tell me that he should marry me because I’m a good woman, we’ve been together long enough or I should want to lock him down because he is committed to doing everything in his power to make me happy, don’t know what makes us work and fail to consider that we’re content right where we are.
Some other people also tell me that marriage is a commitment before God that I assume is supposed to make us be on our best behavior and work through our differences over the years. I wonder though, what do a ring and piece of paper guarantee? Tax advantages and benefits, certainly. But it doesn’t guarantee that he won’t come home one day and say he’s gone or that I’ll never cheat. Whether we get married or not, shouldn’t I do what I can to insure that we succeed? If having a ring and a piece of paper means I’ll work harder than if I didn’t, then maybe he should wait on another woman and I need to reevaluate why I want to be in a relationship. Seriously. Love should be the guiding factor, not things and what other people think. And as far as I know, marriage isn’t a guarantee of couple success: It just costs more to end things, so you end up with couples married for 35 years, but who haven’t liked each other and had side pieces on and off for the last 20.
I’m sure someone will relate the experiences of their parents or grandparents. Some of those marriages… re-read the last sentence of the paragraph above. I do know successful married, cohabiting and long-term dating relationships though and each couple chose the path that worked for them. The one common factor among all of them is that they committed to making the relationship work out of love for themselves and their partner. Some in a ceremony, some just to each other, but they’re happy and for me, that’s what matters the most.
These past two years, I’ve become a lot less riled about what people think about my choice. The day may come when we decide to get married. If it does, fine. If it doesn’t, I feel no less of a woman or committed. At this point in my life, it works and until it doesn’t, I’ll keep my house on Cohabit Lane instead of trying to prematurely move to Married Rd. and be part of the Miserable Wives Club.