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: Chanel | 26 | Consultant
Him: Sam | 27 | Private Equity Associate
Relationship Status: Dating, 2 Years
Chanel and Sam were initially introduced to each other through a mutual friend circle, while she was living out of town and he was based in New York City. The attraction and connection was immediate. The bond they share has grown over the years and into a relationship that feels like home for both of them.
Q: What does black love mean to the black community?
Chanel: We’ve had to deal with so many challenges and struggles as a community that I think love is the only thing that has been constant and can get us through. Whether that’s romantic love or family, the love that we have for each other as people is important, especially with couples. It provides a safe haven from all the things we have to go through as a community, being out here in Donald Trump’s America.
Sam: I agree. It’s not as rare as we think. If we don’t make an effort to display it or to have it heralded as something that we desire, we risk getting white-washed with people dating outside their race as policy, or people having certain collective grievances with the opposite sex. You know, “Black women don’t do this, therefore I don’t rock with black women.” Beyond the romantic standpoint, I believe the family is going to be key going forward, and black love is what starts off every black family. When you have strong families that are rooted in black love, ultimately you create stronger communities.
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?
Sam: I can’t say there was much, but she made me watch the Oprah Black Love special. We knocked it out in two nights. That’s the ultimate representation and that’s the polar end of it. You don’t see it enough and as a result, you see the couples that do exist get put on a pedestal. Barack and Michelle better not ever have anything go wrong, we need them. There probably are a good amount of examples in the media, but there aren’t enough concerted efforts to display it.
Chanel: In the last couple years I’ve seen more of it start to come back. 20 years ago with A Different World, Living Single and The Cosby Show, dare I say it, there was definitely a stronger image, and now we’re starting to see that come up. I think now, as black women especially, as we change in our role and the family has changed. There are more shows like Insecure and Being Mary Jane that show independent black women. It’s good to see that as well, but in that, I don’t want us to lose the element of black love we had 20 to 30 years ago.
Q: What’s the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?
Sam: I don’t think anything is new under the sun. I don’t think men are more trash now than they were in the past. But I do think social media accelerates the extent to which we see it. People are living out loud and people are more vocal about their lifestyle, so if a dude is on that noncommittal wave, he can be very visible to us. As a man having so much access to social media, being in a relationship can be almost isolating in a sense. When you have a lot of friends who are still single, you have to align yourself with who’s trying to get into what. It takes a lot of maturity to realize the extent we’re gonna have to make those decisions.
As far as displaying it, I think we’ve all had to experience the “Instagram debut.” Do we care who’s looking? Do we care that people know? Do we want to come off a certain way? Anything other than wanting to purely express your love is whack.
Chanel: The hardest part of damn near anything being a millennial is making sure that you’re doing something for real, authentic, genuine reasons, and that’s what you’re portraying. Not that you’re trying to show a perfect relationship that isn’t perfect, or more worried about posting a cute picture with your man than you are about getting along. Luckily we stayed off of social media for a while, almost the first year of dating. It wasn’t a secret, there was just no need to broadcast it. And that was helpful for us to build a foundation.
Q: Previous generations had clear and specific gender roles. How do you two define each other’s roles in your relationship, if at all?
Sam: I’m not embarrassed to say that I am happy to follow her lead. One dynamic that has become clear is that I’m Type B and she’s Type A. I don’t know if you like admitting that you’re Type A. When it comes to having the same plans on the calendar, realizing that we have different approaches to things, I trust Chanel to make the call. I know my input is valued, but I trust her to run with stuff. Like our New Year’s party, I helped, but that was her. I don’t really think it’s my role as a male to be the leader. I can guide the course, but I don’t have to make every decision.
I don’t think the woman has to cook and clean and the man has to bring home the bacon. I think it’s cool that we’re both in careers that we love, and if that means we have to order a bunch of takeout, then so be it. I don’t think she has to cook for me every night by six o’clock, by any means.
Chanel: I like that in our relationship we’ve defined it for ourselves. I like cooking and I’m down to do it, but I don’t want it to be an expectation because I’m a woman. I think the balance of being able to say, "This is what works for us because it works for us, not because it’s what worked for society however many years," is important. My mom has been a stay-at-home mom since I was three years old. I don’t know what will happen when I have kids, but I enjoy my career. I think being able to make those decisions yourself is what’s important. He always takes my trash out, and I appreciate that. Low-key gender roles, but I don’t know the last time he’s cooked a meal.
Q: Are there any individual relationship struggles that you had to overcome?
Sam: Sacrifices. That was lesson number one. You go from a situation where the world is yours and you’re doing whatever you want to do when you want to do it, to having to consider someone else in most decisions, and that’s an adjustment. Going from free to less free isn’t always something to be excited about, but if you're able to take the step back and say you made the sacrifice for something that you knew you wanted, which was to build something real, the sacrifice doesn't feel like you missed out. A lot of decisions I make where I’m doing something I don’t want to do, I think of it as an investment.
Also, being with someone long enough really puts that mirror up to yourself. When the other person helps you see other things in yourself, it can make you adjust. I think her direct nature makes me better. She’s not afraid to give negative feedback, and not everyone wants to hear that from their girl.
Chanel: Changing the way you go through the world. Instead of being solo now, you're a duo. I’m not sure if that ever goes away. It’s kind of like changing your way of operating. What do I want to do? How do I feel in this moment? How do I want to act? It’s really about what’s better for us as a unit, and I think that shows itself in multiple ways. For me, I travel a lot for work, so the decisions I make about what I’m going to do at work change how often we see each other, the way we operate with our friends and see our friends. As a single person, those are things you don’t have to think about or care about, but in a relationship, especially one you want to last, you start thinking long term to adjust your behavior to make the partnership stronger.
Q: What is it about having a black significant other that impacts you the most?
Chanel: For me, it’s being able to relate to each other's experiences. I’ve never seriously dated anyone outside of my race, but I’ve worked with a whole bunch of white people and have white friends, and I think there’s a level of shared experience within the black community. I don’t know how you have that outside of having a black partner. My relationship is one place where I want to be able to be myself and I want for that to be welcomed, felt and shared, not like there’s certain things you just can’t relate to. That’s going to happen in other regards. Being black is so important with both of our identities.
Sam: Having someone in your corner when you're out there with these white folks all day. I have to come home and vent. Sometimes I may annoy her in the process, but at least I know she understands, can relate and I’m not talking out of my ears or imagining some sort of oppression. We can have a deep conversation any night of the week about anything, as it pertains to being black. I can’t imagine that not being a part of the dynamic. I absolutely love the fact that we both have strong nuclear family units, and that cannot be forgotten in this time, along with the thought of enriching the roots of our family trees.
Also, I’m proud of it. We’ve been to two work holiday parties for my job. At mine, it’s a dinner full of white folks, but having Chanel with me it’s like, we out here!
Q: Do you feel pressured by your family to be with someone who looks like you?
Chanel: I don’t think that I necessarily felt that because it’s something I wanted for myself. However, I have two younger brothers and I feel like I provided that pressure for them to be with somebody black. I think being understood for who you really are, feeling at home and feeling safe in your relationship are all really important and can be found outside of your race, but it’s harder to find and super important. I have two black parents that have been married for a long time. Innately, once you see something for so long, it’s what you gravitate to.
Sam: Same. My folks have been together for 40 years and that’s what I know. I know it’s possible. I think when people abandon the ideas, it's because they don’t have an example to see and they’re fed so much media about what’s beautiful. Having that example for myself, I never thought otherwise. I had two white girlfriends in kindergarten, one more in first grade and then I was done. I got it out of my system early. My sisters were like, “come home with a white girl if you want to…,” and that’s as far as the joke went.