Welcome to the Beyond Marriage Panel.
Our panelists are: LM, long time commenter and friend of the blog; CV, LM’s partner; Andrea Plaid, our sexual correspondent; Tami of What Tami Said and Love Isn’t Enough; Nonso Christian Ugbode, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; and Lisa Factora-Borchers, friend of the blog and blogger/author at My Ecdysis.
LM: Marriage is a byproduct of a healthy, committed relationship — at least in the life I’m trying to live. Of course people get married for all kinds of other reasons too, some of which don’t even include that notion. No matter what, for a marriage to have legs, work is going to be involved… and to the extent that happens, it’s a healthy phenomenon. But people can do this without being married, per se, and I fear too many people focus on a wedding ceremony or piece of paper instead of building a healthy relationship based on shared values and goals.
Andrea: Considering that marriage isn’t a legal option for some women–I’m thinking of cisgender lesbians and trans women–it’s certainly can’t be considered a solution for all women. That’s what these articles about Us Negresses and Our Marriage Problem™ seem to conveniently forget. Another inconvenient truth these pieces continue to forget is the concept of agency: some of us man-loving Black women may not want to marry. A simple phrase would do the trick: “x% of Black women who want to marry and are able to marry have yet to do so.” So that takes out those of us who can’t or just don’t want to. A third inconvenient truth is marrying another Black person isn’t the solution for Black communities, either. A majority of married couples in Black communities are monoracial–and that’s still not working out as far as fighting poverty, getting better schools for Black children, guaranteeing better sexual and reproductive health for Black people, and the rest of what plagues Black communities. On a microlevel, Blackness is no guarantee that two Black people will get along. Perfect example: my mom. She very much believes this narrative of Black Love Conquers All™–and has only dated and twice married Black men. She’s just divorced my now ex-stepfather. However, marrying interracially is no panecea, either: I have a white ex-husband.
CV: Merriam-Webster defines marriage as “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law”. Of course there are nuances, specifically with regard to whether the person one is united to is of the same or opposite sex. The marriage ceremony, for me, is just that-a ceremony, and I don’t think that alone will solve any issues with black women and our community. However, there is something to be said for that actual marriage and the work and commitment it involves towards the fulfillment of shared ideals and goals, which I believe does go a long way.
Tami: I think there is too much talk about marriage going on and not enough talk about building healthy relationships and how people get their romantic needs met. As Andrea points out, not every black woman can or wants to get married. And black-on-black coupling is not a guarantee of marital success. So, I think a more productive conversation for a magazine geared at black women to have is how black women can build healthy romantic lives within traditional marriage, as well as outside of it. Or perhaps we could simply stop viewing anything short of traditional marriage as a woman’s failure. I do understand that many black women do want to get married. I did. But this hyper-focus on walking down the aisle seems unhealthy. It preferences a ceremony over personal well-being.
Nonso: There’s not a lot of talk about the effects of bad marriages; both on the couples in them, and the potential offspring of that marriage. The logic perhaps being “even if the union was incompatible at best, at least the kids started in a ‘complete’ home.” Being the offspring of a marriage that only kinda worked and then collapsed, I have always actively dismissed marriage from a very young age. And of course add the same-sex loving angle and the journey to that altar just always seemed liked too much work to me. I’ve never really seen marriage presented as a solution, so much as that final key you need to make it into society. Once you had that key you were the Jeffersons moving up, or any number of pop culture definitions of family, for the most part marriage is presented as a prerequisite for family.
LM: Not in my perception. My wife and I were together more than four years before we got married and anyone who was around us for any length of time could see that we were committed to each other and living as partners, a la a married couple. So the wedding itself was just an event — not an unimportant one, but not one that altered our standing in the eyes of others. The fact that our relationship was interracial had no bearing before or after — once people had been around us. There may have been a few raised eyebrows early.
Andrea: By the time my ex-husband and I married, I just started speaking to my mom. I think it was my ex who encouraged me to speak with my mom again because he wanted to meet her. They hit it off rather well: she felt comfortable to ask those “racial” questions about the inner workings of white privilege. And he found a kindred conversationalist.
My interaction with his family after we married was fraught with unspoken tensions, especially from his younger sister who, I suspect, harbored a secret fantasy of reuniting their own divorced family–and my Black self played no part in that fantasy. Also, for a while, I didn’t go to his family gatherings because he knew how openly racist quite a few of his extended family members were. (”I can just feel the n-word on the tip of their tongues,” the ex-husband would say.) They were polite to me when I finally went to the gatherings, but the ex-husband and I had our Racist Senses on high alert around them.
CV: I don’t think so, at least not that I noticed.
LFB: Our families treated us the same, but strangers treated us like a delightful home-cooked experiment. His German-French-Irish background and my Filipino-Spanish heritage caught the eye of friends and strangers alike who would stop and ask if we were married. And then we’d hear, “Oh I wonder how your children will look” for the millionth time. It wasn’t discriminatory, but it was certainly annoying to deal with our interracial marriage as fodder for small talk.
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