A Millennial Love Story: How This Couple Is Setting A New Standard Of Black Love
A conversation with Ryan and James.
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.
Him: James | 38 | Entrepreneur
Him: Ryan | 33 | Accountant
Relationship Status: Together 10 Years, Married 2 Years
Ryan and James met in the early years of social media, well before people boasted about who they did or did not swipe right on. With Ryan away as a college student in Upstate New York and James living in NYC, they spent a lot of time getting to know one another over the phone (and when feeling fancy, Yahoo’s early version of FaceTime). After years of on-and-off connection and seeing one another out on the party circuit, a chance encounter brought the two back together for good. Realizing they lived not too far from one another, they decided to give an actual relationship a shot. Though the road hasn’t always been easy, the commitment remained in tact as Ryan and James pursued a lifetime together. They are now homeowners and share the responsibility of their wine shop, J&R Symposium in Brooklyn, all while setting a new standard for love in the black gay community.
Q: What does black love mean to the black community?
James: Because of the brutal history of this country and all that our ancestors had to endure, many feel it’s very important that black love stays alive in our community. This is the only way we can continue to grow and build a secure future for people of color.
Ryan: Black love means an equal and secure attraction between two individuals who identify themselves as black, which isn’t limited to African, Caribbean or Spanish. A connection centered on black culture that goes beyond the shades of black skin tone.
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?
James: In the media, I would say there's not enough. The ones that are there are mostly negative, specifically for gay couples. In my personal life, the friends we have around us see us as a representation of black love because of how long we have been together. With all our ups and downs, we have had a huge impact on the people closest to us. And it’s not because it’s black love, it’s because it’s black gay love, which isn’t represented in the media or in our everyday lives.
When we first meet people and we tell them we have been together for over 10 years and they hear that through all the ups and downs that we’ve still been able to achieve success, they get happy for us. Some people would come to our home and once we tell them we own it along with several businesses, they’re surprised because this is not something that is commonly seen in the gay community. It opens their eyes to the possibilities.
Ryan: I believe black love has always been underrepresented in the media with very few examples of what folks can rely on to define black love. Black love is mostly structured around heterosexual relationships, celebrities and power couples. You don’t see many LGBTQ representations of black love except promiscuous relationships that are incorporated into modern day media to prove that they’re diverse. I am discouraged by what is portrayed in the media, but hopeful, as more inclusion and different types of relationships are being showcased.
Q: What’s the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?
James: For us, it was communicating. Even with all of the technology that’s out there, communicating our feelings at times becomes an issue because you know you will hurt the other person you love. So we’ve been working on this for years, and we’ve made some progress, but there is still a lot more work to be done. It takes time, but if you love the person the way I love my soulmate, nothing is too hard to accomplish.
Ryan: The disconnect that we experience with peers and family who don’t understand or accept our relationship choices. Other than that, I think it's the need for so many people to showcase their love on social media. For so long, love has been taboo in black culture. Speaking for myself, most of my perception of love was shaped by my upbringing, where family didn’t often express emotions and love. I kind of knew I was loved, but that was never communicated. I realize this is an ongoing cycle that has been passed down from generation to generation. The hardest part for me is breaking down the defense wall I've built around my heart not trusting. It has affected my relationship because I can shut down easily and take a long time to open back up.
Q: Previous generations had clear and specific gender roles. How do you two define each other’s roles in your relationship, if at all?
James: As gay black males, we have always seen each other as men. I come from a country where being gay wasn’t an option, so I have lived a very masculine lifestyle. I also grew up in a house filled with women. I was the only boy in the house, so I learned the importance of cooking, cleaning and also hosting guests in the home, which were my happiest moments in my childhood.
When I fully committed to being gay, all these things helped me in every relationship I was in, even though in the gay world I’m considered a full top, and Ryan a bottom.
Ryan: We don’t have definitive gender roles, we see each other as equals. We share the same financial goals, dreams, ideas of happiness and overall life. We both can cook and clean, so we try our best to balance it out with our hectic schedules, juggling work, our business and life.
Q: Are there any individual relationship struggles that you had to overcome?
James: Juggling friendship and my relationship. At first, I would try to please my friends by hanging out all the time without my boyfriend, who is now my husband. I had to realize what was more important to me. It was either losing my soulmate, or potentially losing a friend. Most of the issues we had were caused because I was neglecting the person who had been there for me every step along my rocky journey. I woke up one day and said to myself that this guy is not only my soulmate, but my best friend and my biggest cheerleader. From that moment on, I changed by pulling back from my friends and turning down offers to go out. My friends started to back off slowly and they eventually stopped inviting me out because I refused to go out without my man. At first I thought it would affect me, but then I realized I made the right choice.
Ryan: Communication has always been my biggest struggle in my relationship. For the most part, it’s gotten better. My communication problem stems from my upbringing, where I felt a lot of emotional detachment because my family expresses tough love. I struggle with communicating effectively to my significant other, especially if there is a miscommunication out of the fear of blowing up, or immediately going into defense or selfish mode.
Q: Do you feel pressured by your family to be with someone who looks like you?
James: I never got pressured when I was dating girls, and the same applies when dating guys. I have family members who are married to people of other races. It’s more of a personal preference. I know what attracts me. To be honest, I have never been sexually attracted to anyone outside of my race.
Ryan: I was never pressured by my family to date or like someone merely because they look like me. I made my own decision that I would only date black. I am confident to compliment a Hispanic, Indian, Asian or Caucasian and say they are attractive, but that is as far as it will ever go.
Q: What is it about having a black significant other that impacts you the most?
James: The connection we have with each other wouldn’t be the same if I was with someone outside my race. They wouldn’t be able to understand my culture and the things that mean a lot to me, like food we eat, the inside jokes we make about each other that are connected to our culture and ancestors.
Ryan: Compatibility and connectivity. It must be easy to be able to see myself in that person and identify it. Apart from the richness of our skin tones, it’s the cultural experience that we share, despite coming from different countries. I feel there’s a strong ancestral connection that started in Africa and uprooted and scattered all over. But at the end of the day, we all still have that connection in our blood. A black significant other gets me and relates to me more. The same struggles and a parallel upbringing impacts me and solidifies our connection.