This piece is part of a 28-day series celebrating modern black love among millennials. It was created by Chuck Marcus and Michelle Nance, exclusively distributed by Blavity.

Her: Tracy | 32 | On-Air Radio Personality & Experiential Wellness Creator

Him: Carl | 28 | Law Student & Investor

Relationship Status: Dating, 1.5 Years

Like many millennials, the catalyst to Tracy and Carl’s love was the internet — social media, to be exact. A few years back, Tracy noticed Carl would like content she shared under her brand, She’s The Beauty And The Beast, a women’s self-help content platform. Impressed by his public appreciation for something that wasn’t man-driven, she couldn’t help but notice him. Soon after, she was equally impressed by his own work and the fact that they shared two very important mutual friends. A DM to discuss work led to lengthy phone conversations and a budding friendship. Carl invited Tracy out to an event where they were able to meet in person for the first time, and there, the spark grew into a full flame.

Q: What does black love mean to the black community?

Tracy: Unity. I think black love represents true emancipation. Black love has been under attack because if you separate a family, then you weaken a structure. Black love is a rejuvenation in modern day times. If you think about it, we’ve been separated for more years in this country than we have been together. Slavery has lasted longer than our freedom. It’s important for us to make sure the narrative is extended in a way that’s uplifting and shows variety. For the most part, we’ve just seen images that are hostile, aggressive, over-sexualized and hurtful. We all know that when it comes to imaging, it’s changing now, but for the most part, we didn’t have a hand in how we were showcased to the world. Black love, along with black media, is important to have a whole spectrum that deserves a rightful place on the stage.

Carl: To me, black love means peace. When we think about love, we think about happiness and joy, creating more peace, happiness and joy with love. I think for a long time the black community hasn’t had peace or love or joy. I think that’s partially the reason why we have the fractured relationships in the community. We don’t necessarily have peace because we haven’t had love.

When you think about how much hip-hop has impacted the world, a large amount of the world looks to us as a cultural example. Even though, for the most part, the lyrical content has been violent, somehow hip-hop has found a way to unify the world. My brother took a trip to South Africa, and in Cape Town white people where telling him how much they love him.

Tracy: And I have the power to double that. Imagine the effect when he shows up with a black queen. The surface and substance of us causes such a cultural ripple effect. If everyone consciously and subconsciously is borrowing from us, imagine the world as a whole if they were borrowing from images of black love.

Q: Do you think there’s sufficient/significant representation of black love in media? Are you encouraged or discouraged by those you see in real life or in media?

Carl: I’m torn because we only have limited examples. It is sufficient, but it’s not significant and there isn’t a spectrum. There’s Barack and Michelle, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and you have Will and Jada, and that’s it. We kind of hang the faith in black love on those three couples. I was fortunate enough to watch black love in a two parent household. I was fortunate enough to learn dynamics from my parents. As I’ve gotten older and started to look at my parents less as parents and more as humans, I’m starting to learn the layers within relationships. The media doesn’t necessarily portray that.

Interviewer: What about the black couple from This is Us?

Tracy: I love that you brought them up. That’s the first relationship where he doesn’t see her as a sexual object. If black women are spotted with black men, it’s like we’re a prize, but just for the shell of you. It’s, “I got the baddest shawty with the most likes on Instagram.” You’re always posting photos of her for your WCW, but I don’t know about the quality of her. Opening the door to the subconscious, if you’re feeding me this and reinforcing that this is the most important thing about me as a black woman, I have to make sure that I’m always looking like an 11. I do feel like there’s a shift in that with This Is Us, that man is always complimenting her mind. She is always the catalyst to his next epiphany. Her delivery can sometimes be a little rough, but he understands her. He has taken the time to see all of her layers. He understands that having a woman of quality means that he should listen.

Q: What’s the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?

Tracy: The addiction to screens. That can bleed into your relationship as well. I have to think about how I’m representing another person with what I decide to post. There’s room for misinterpretation. For instance, I was at an event and I was dancing with one of my boys who happens to be gay, so I put up the video. Carl wasn’t the biggest fan of that. Also, the way men see things can be very different. What the woman does can oftentimes be more of a poor reflection on the man, and what he does can be a poor reflection on her.

I’m very transparent and I don’t hide a lot of shit, he appreciates that in me, so he wants that to be shown to the world. But anything that makes it look like another man could have intimacy with me easily, he doesn’t like that. 

Carl: To double back on that, my thing is managing expectations. I think social media, because it is a camera lens on your life, a controlled lens, people see some, but not all. They see a photo, but don’t necessarily see all the details comprised in the photo. The way the world sees me is also the way the world sees my spouse, because I am a reflection of her. So because of that, I have to think twice about what people get to see through this limited lens, because they don’t get to see the colors behind it. And that was behind the snide comment I had to her. If you have 50,000 followers, some of them want to get your number and want to make you their girlfriend. If I am a man and I see you dancing with a man, I think to mysel,f “Is she mad at her man? Are they broken up? Where’s my entrance point to getting into her life?” I also think about it from my perspective as well. What am I doing in public that can give off the perception that can harm the image of my significant other or give the perception that she’s my significant other? I’m very careful about how I look publicly or how people speak about you publicly. It’s not that she wasn’t thinking that way, it’s just that particular act made it seem that way.

Q: Are there any individual relationship struggles that you had to overcome?

Carl: I had to change the way I date. In previous relationships I was used to just going and purchasing very expensive things, and the job was done. I began working in finance at 21 and had investments, so because of that, I always had access. It was like, are we going to Tiffany’s? It was easy. I’ve had to be more thoughtful in this relationship than I ever was. I remember being with an ex and forgetting our anniversary, so I went to Tiffany’s and purchased something so it looked like I was prepared for months, but I wasn’t. And because the gift was so extravagant, she didn’t even ask. I can’t do that in this relationship. I have to really think about what it is I’m getting her and why. She’s like, don’t just buy expensive shit, buy things that mean something. It made me look at my previous relationships as “microwaved.” With this relationship, I can’t do that. I have to put it in the oven.

Tracy: What you don’t see a lot of time is men preparing for you. There’s something about the idea that when I was at work, or when I was sleeping and in my own world, someone was thinking about me and preparing rather than being an afterthought. You can’t be a priority all the time, but when you do have those moments, prepare a little bit.

 My struggle was monogamy. Before this relationship, I had to decide for myself what type of lifestyle I wanted, and I really did consider polyamory for a second. When I did some soul-searching, I found that monogamy best fit me. I’ve never had a relationship where I’ve been so honest about everything; every corner has been dusted. Being completely honest about feeling depressed, juggling anxiety, things that are unsexy.

Carl: Even honest about having crushes on other people.

Tracy: And it’s awkward, but there is no other relationship in your life where you will be that in this person’s face. You have to go to bed with this person. This is excessive amounts of time with one person and we put a pretty bow on it and call it marriage. Carl and I have realized that we can customize our relationship, and part of that is just honesty.

Q: Previous generations had clear and specific gender roles. How do you two define each other’s roles in your relationship, if at all?

Carl: I don’t think there are any. There are certain habits that we both have that allow us to just do what we always did. One thing I always do is that if I’m the last one in the bed, I make it. Traditional gender roles say that women always make the bed. I don’t particularly care because it’s a routine for me. Another thing that we’ve found in our relationship is that Tracy can be very masculine. There are ways that she expresses herself that I would expect from my dad, brother or male best friend, and when she does it I’m like, “Wait, I thought you were my girl!” It’s the way she expresses herself, not what she’s saying. I sometimes call her a self-help bully.

Tracy: Carl is softer than me. He is very strong and a leader, and I trust that if he’s in the lead he’ll take us to the right destination. What I mean by softer is that Carl’s just not going to come at my neck. I can be, at times, like a football coach, because I see the potential and we can’t leave this unused.

Q: Do you feel pressured by your family to be with someone who looks like you?

Tracy: No, I’ve had a white girlfriend (laughs).

Carl: I wouldn’t say I was pressured, but I was always told not to marry a Dominican. My mother’s very nationalist, she’s Haitian, and she said you can marry anyone but a Dominican. That was the only rule.

Q: What is it about having a black significant other that impacts you the most?

Tracy: I am a stan of the dictionary and American colloquialism, and people would never know this publicly, but one of my top two favorite words is nigga. You would never know if you follow me on social media. When I’m around white people, I have a filter that just goes up because I don’t ever want to confuse anyone, if you're not black, you can't say it — and that's just that! Sometimes you just want to be extra, or be the most ignorant version of yourself, and have someone get it.

Carl: There’s this old rumor that JFK and Jackie Kennedy used to communicate using books. Well, Tracy and I communicate using songs. When we’re around each other, I’ll say a bar and she’ll say who said that? There’s a song by Teddy Pendergrass called “Come And Go With Me,” so when I want her to come over, I’ll just send her that song. I feel like if I was with a white woman that wouldn’t work. You have to be with a black woman to be able to communicate that way. She’s very into hip-hop and so am I, so that added layer. We can discuss that and we can understand things verbally and non-verbally, and I think that comes from similar cultures.

Tracy: It’s not a burden, but it’s just easier because you don’t have to teach each other.