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: Whitney Carlyle | 30 | Entrepreneur
Him: Dennard Smith | 29 | City Organizer
Relationship Status: Dating | 5 Years
Whitney and Dennard met when they were both attending Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Whitney’s best friend had a class with Dennard and decided to introduce them because she felt they had so much in common that they would hit it off. Turns out, best friends know best.
The couple has known each other for eight years and have been in a committed relationship for five. But when asked about the timeline of their love, the details get fuzzy because, to them, the passing years haven’t phased what they know and feel to be a completely organic connection.
What does Black love mean to the black community?
Dennard: It’s essential, it should be at the forefront of every Black individual and Black couple’s relationship and upbringing. How I was raised, there wasn’t much black love so I try to live it and exude it and bring it about. Once we have a family they’ll be brought up in Black love.
Whitney: Compassion, heritage, strength because you don’t see it a lot especially in this climate and culture. Black individuals, specifically men, aren’t put in the best light so when you have couples who are in love it’s meaningful so you have to show it.
How did you know you were ready to commit to one another?
Whitney: It's been so organic, we’ve never had to question anything, it was so natural. We met in college, dated and then we both moved. We actually said we weren’t down for the long distance relationship. We said we weren’t gonna do it, but when he left we stayed connected and then I came to NY and we were in the same city. It’s never like we had to say “ok, this is it, we’re not dating anyone else”.
Dennard: It was just good vibes, we were spending so much time together, talking, seeing each other, traveling. There’s this theme of organic it keeps reoccurring because it truly was, things just clicked.
Even speaking on it just feels…
Why is it weird?
Dennard: Typically in the Black community everything is defined you’re dating or you’re engaged. There’s an established route that you have to take with dating from meeting, courting, dating, engaged, kids. So when you say organic it goes against the status quo of relationships.
Whitney: It could also mean fake, when you say that some people might take that as it doesn’t seem right, you’re actually holding something back.
What would you say is the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?
Whitney: I don’t find it hard.
Why not? Most millennials deal with social, their own career path and not having time for their partner, so, how do you manage and balance that?
Whitney: That’s a good question when you put it like that. People do have those issues but we don’t.
Dennard: When I hear people say millennials this and millennials that, to me it doesn’t matter, we’re all living in the now. You have social media, personal aspirations, dealing with your own family. There are times now when there’s an overload of information in these circles that I am a part of but if you try to do everything you get nothing done.
So what helps me in this millennial era is trying to maintain the presence of being here now so wherever I am I’m trying to be present. If I’m at work I’m at work, I’m not on social media. If I’m out at dinner with my girl I’m on the date. The concept of being here now is a great resource to combat the awkwardness of being a millennial in this time.
Whitney: Everything is so seamless, with those hurdles we’re also able to confide in each other to battle those. With social media, career paths, growing and changes I’ve found comfort in coming to him and talking about all of that. When I’m going through the motions and in my feelings I find coming to him very helpful.
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Who do you look to for advice in your relationship?
Whitney: I don’t think anyone, no one that I'm like "hey this is the situation, what should I do?"
Dennard: I do. The reason why I deeply love my girl is because she’s deeply emotion filled. I’m pretty much the same temperament throughout, but my girl goes through so many emotions in a conversation, in a day, in a week. So for me it was very hard because I got an overload of emotion coming from her and I’m a reserved person, I want to run things by people to make sure I’m not trippin or being a d**k and maybe it’s her and I have to address her in a way so that she knows how she's acting.
I run things by my friends who are in relationships. Mostly my brother and then I have two line brothers who are in long-term committed relationships. I call them up and tell them the situation and they give me their perspective, they’re not always on my side. Most of the time it’s them telling me I need to redirect some things and maybe I need to be more thoughtful. That’s something talking to peers in relationships has helped me with, being more thoughtful and considerate of the other person’s feelings because I’m very apathetic.
What representation of a successful couple do you look to emulate?
Whitney: My grandma and grandpa. They have a cute relationship, it’s very endearing and old fashioned; still with the norms she cooks and cares for him but she will check him. Other than that, seeing couples in the spotlight like Will and Jada.
If you could describe love in one word what would it be and why?
Dennard: Malleable, easily molded or shaped. You have to be able to flex and bend and change form to be able to maintain love. You don’t meet someone at 20 something and stay the same person. This year alone she’s seen me in many lights that she’s never seen me before. We’ve elevated, sometimes dropped or got stagnant. We’re always able to bend for each other and for her I’ll be malleable to maintain love.
Whitney: Strength, because to give and receive love requires a lot of strength. You have to be vulnerable, you have to be giving and even in times when you don’t want to. When you’ve been together as long as we have it takes a lot of strength to push through.