Love & Marriage… and Divorce
I happened upon this online “conversation” of sorts about divorce being people “giving up” while I was catching up on Black Love, the show on OWN. It was an odd coincidence that gave me pause. It’s really interesting to see the inside of people’s marriages and how they got there in a way you typically never do. More inspiring is the way they have dealt with the obstacles in their relationships. I listened as many of them considered divorce at one stage of another of their marriages. If you don’t know that struggle… consider yourself lucky but the consideration and decision are a lot of things, but giving up isn’t one of them.
First comes Love, the comes marriage… and sometimes later comes divorce … hopefully and prayerfully not.
Here’s the thing… if you have not experienced any one of the three, you really cannot with wisdom and full understanding, attest to what the experience is like. And while everyone’s love, marriage, and divorce is different, there are some commonalities that exist that really define the experience.
Let’s first clear this up. Love is not defined by physical desire for another person. Period. Love is not made in words. Period.
Love is an action. It is defined by someone’s consideration of you, consistency with you, their constant intention to understand you and show their affection and connection in ways that you best receive them. We often use words such as respect, loyalty, communication, touch, quality time, sacrifice, etc. to describe the actions people who love you show you. But ultimately all those things are included in consideration, consistency, connection, and understanding.
Life is not sustained without relationships, which are not sustained without love. It is the most essential building block of life… water, food, shelter, clothing, and love. We romanticize love so much that we see it only as an emotional outpouring of devotion and adoration… and while that may be how some people demonstrate love, it’s far deeper than that. True love is a demonstration of acceptance and understanding. Accepting a person as they come and navigating growth and change with them even when it doesn’t reflect the growth or change you expected and seeking to fully understand who they are completely and loving them more because of it.
Love alone does not sustain a marriage… let’s start there! A marriage is also not a continuation of a romantic relationship. It is a cleaving of two people into one. Now what that looks like and how it is done is completely up to those two people. Completely. The terms they set upon their marriage spiritually, financially, physically, sexually, and otherwise are based on their values, morals, traditions, and needs. But unless they are one, and operate as a unit, most marriages won’t work. Two people operating from two different spaces and places in time won’t be able to navigate the terrain that is life as a team. Life is a series of hills and valleys, mountains and deep sea dives that tend to happen for two people simultaneously or not at the worst times. Only a tandem working as a unit can pull one person from a lightening bolt onto the other’s rising cloud… or can ride that lightening bolt like surfers until they can jump off and pull their parachutes together.
For Black people especially, many of our ancestral notions and images of marriage and partnership were lost when we were brought to America. We have taken on very “American” individualistic views of not just marriage but success and life, while our ancestors were very much communal in nature. We were kept from the more European notions of intermarriage for wealth building that the wealthy American families practiced, and still practice, to maintain their position in society. African families and the community at large surrounded married couples with foundational support to help them navigate through changes and issues during the marriage. We lack that as a culture. I could see how the couples who had that kind of support flourished, not only on Black Love, but in real life.
But sometimes no matter how much they try, the pairing wasn’t right, they just don’t fit like puzzle pieces, so they never fully come together as one. Read it clear… despite trying their best.
Listen… I know a lot of divorced men and women who would be in jail or dead if they were still married to their former spouses. When you label those people as quitters, you disrespect their journey and their choices. Until you walk a mile in my shoes…
Some people can forgive and move on from cheating, that doesn’t make them better it makes them different. Some people can recover from financial, emotional, or even physical abuse, but others cannot. I personally have a very deep rooted sense of loyalty that will not allow me to be unfaithful. I would rather tell you the entire truth, so you know that no matter if my personal decision hurts you, I would never deceive you or make choices for you. In fact, my main goal would be to make choices that bring joy to us both, but if I’m unable to do that, you can’t ever say I betrayed you. Ever. So of course, I cannot accept betrayal. You don’t get to tell me that a walking alway from betrayal makes me a quitter. To me, that’s much more than “for worse”… that’s a dealbreaker, a covenant cleaver, the dismantling of the unit.
The same is true for many people who experience trauma in the marriages: abuse, financial ruin, patriarchy, family and friend interference, infidelity… when the things that we enter the marriage valuing the most are broken and battered we have every right to evaluate whether this is where we belong. Life is too short to stay with someone who does not value and honor you, because even through tough times, those things should remain true. If marriage is the penthouse, the basement is friendship, and upon that foundation everything is built. When you are no longer friends… well, your whole house is bound to cave in. Deciding to take your half of the bricks and build again is not giving up. It’s starting anew.
“Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.” One pulls, one rides, and we take turns pulling and riding, until the wheels fall off. Sometimes, the wheels fall off and we realize that horse was never the best to pull that carriage, so we make other plans. Other times, those bad boys fall off, we get more, and we keep pulling and riding, riding and pulling into the sunset. And just maybe, hopefully, we’ll inspire those carriage-less horses and horse-less carriages to pull and ride again someday!
Or maybe they’ll just say fuck this and get a car.