Thought For The Day:
“The only way to stay committed is to stop looking for the escape hatch and get on with it.”
Question For The Day:
What does marital commitment mean to you?
As the country once again prepares to take to the polls for the 2020 presidential election, I am again reminded of how much I miss the Obamas! Barack and Michelle’s presence in the White House represented hope on multiple levels. One of the major reasons for this is the positive example of black love and marriage that the entire nation had the privilege to witness for the eight years they were in office.
In a society where fifty percent of marriages fail and seventy percent of black marriages are predicted to end in divorce, the Obamas have reminded the masses that happily married African American couples are real and not just suburban legends. Watching Barack and Michelle cuddle, dance, and laugh together despite the crushing pressure they must have faced, is inspirational and validates that we as minorities can make smart choices in marriage and commit to love no matter the opposition. Since their departure, I fear we will once again be starved for this example which, frankly, the black community desperately needs. We used to be able to count on Cliff and Clair to give us a little hope, but everybody knows Cosby Show reruns are hard to come by nowadays (sips tea).
Most of the images of black people on television today tend to represent what not to do in relationships. So how does this desert of positive imagery impact single women aspiring to marry and married women looking to stay the course? With so much hopelessness and confusion regarding how to achieve healthy relationships, my guess is that many people are beginning to wonder if all the effort in trying to get married and stay married is even worth it. When you are five times more likely to come across a baby daddy than a husband, it’s time to take an honest look at what has become of the institution that for my mother and grandmother’s generation represented the emotional, educational, and financial security of the family and thereby, the community. Do we even still accept the validity of holy matrimony anymore or has it officially become old school?
With so many single-parent households and ladies successfully adapting to life as a single, it’s easy to reduce marriage down to “just a piece of paper.” In my opinion (and possibly because I watch too much reality television), it seems people are going into marriage more for an excuse to throw themselves a huge party and be the envy of all their girlfriends for a day. With reality shows like “The Bachelor,” “90 Day Fiance’,” and “Married at First Sight” flooding the airwaves, “getting married” seems to be all about the engagement, the ring, the dress, and the drama that drives the process of getting to the alter. The actual ’til death do us part’ portion of the ceremony is kind of a throwaway. Though no one will admit it, even as folks party at your reception, they’re likely wondering how long it will take before there’s an invitation to your divorce party. Rather than really expecting a marriage to last, it’s much more common to wait for it to fail.
For the newly married couple of today it’s kind of like, let’s kick the idea around, give it a shot, and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll just call it quits and move on. After all, life is too short, right? When you really weigh the consequences of making a vow before God to love someone for better or for worse, richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, is that really what we mean? If so, then why are so many people jumping ship when it gets to the worse, poor, and sick parts, seeing divorce as a quick fix and well-earned permission to upgrade to a finer, richer, or fancier model.
Instead of digging in during the lean years, and putting in the work, it becomes a whole lot easier to just chuck it and try to find someone better. It’s usually during those rough years, that your well-meaning friends will even advise you to keep it moving. “You don’t have to put up with that” or “do you,” they’ll say and usually with the best of intentions. But is “doing you,” really honoring your vows? Now, I would never advocate for a woman to tolerate cheating or abuse of any kind and if that is what you’re dealing with, then by all means Sis, keep it moving! However, I’ve found that “irreconcilable differences” don’t always rise to that level of offense, yet many of us are calling it quits on men who are still developing, growing, and becoming all that we want them to be. I know “I can do bad all by myself,” but why go there if it’s not absolutely necessary?
Of course, I couldn’t even attempt to address this issue without drawing from my personal experience. For the record, I’ve been married now for nineteen years as of today, but I’ve been with my husband for a total of twenty. It seems whenever I tell somebody I’ve been married for that long, they are intrigued. Unfortunately, they don’t always inquire about what keeps the marriage together. In fact, their questions are sometimes geared towards trying to figure out what’s wrong with the relationship. If you are a black woman, married to a black man, then he must be cheating or putting his hands on you. They wonder if he’s unemployed, an addict, or a male chauvinist. People tend to think a lot of things, but the first assumption is generally not that he might be a good man and that the marriage actually has legs. I hope that married women who might read this post can attest to something different, but this is my experience.
So then, is it true that I’ve been married for this long because my husband is my perfect soul mate and we are madly in love all day everyday? Was he my knight in shining armor, my Prince Charming, the James to my Florida, the George to my Wizzy, the Dwayne to my Whitley? Are we a perfect match? Does everyday with him feel like a Hallmark card in live action? Well, let me think…… Haaayall to the no!
My husband, though a good man, is a piece of work! Being married to him is not easy, but part of being mature enough to be married in the first place is understanding that, you too, are likely a piece of work. We are pretty egotistical people for the most part and think that dealing with bad habits, character flaws, mistakes, shortfalls, and bad attitudes on occasion are something we shouldn’t have to put up with. A lot of times, we get married with the hidden belief that we are the capable, smart, and together half of the relationship and therefore our spouse is expected to repay us for their good fortune by always making us happy.
Yet, here’s a question to consider. What if marriage isn’t just about making you happy? What if it is about commitment? There is nothing any of my children could ever do to make me turn my back on them because my commitment to them is unwavering. But when it comes to a spouse, there are always conditions even though we vowed that there would not be. When we say we are willing to love someone unconditionally forever, what becomes of that promise for more than half of us? If you really want to be married for a lifetime, you have to accept that it doesn’t mean you’ll like it everyday, be happy everyday, or even be “in love” everyday. What it means is that you will stay regardless. This is commitment and commitment is a choice, not a feeling.
You may be hard pressed to find someone who can make you happy forever, just like you can’t possibly make someone else happy forever. Perhaps it’s this unrealistic expectation that can explain why, as Jasmine Sullivan sings, “Forever Don’t Last” too long these days. Though I can’t be responsible for anyone else’s happiness, I can choose to stand with them while they work on finding their own. This is the only definition of marriage that makes sense to me. When two people continue to support each other while they each find their individual happiness, there is no longer the pressure of having to make their spouse’s life complete. This is a tall order for anyone other than God to fill. Only a person who find’s their happiness within can have the resources to support someone fully while they do the same. If we can be happy with ourselves unconditionally for a lifetime, loving someone else becomes a whole lot easier and forever might not feel so long after all.
*This post was updated and revised on 7/22/20. For the follow up to the original post, check out Forever, Forever Ever? (Part II) – Stay or Let it Go.
“Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”