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: Briana | 28 | Founder, Spiked Spin
Him: Zach | 28 | Investment Banker
Relationship Status: Dating, 7 Years
Briana and Zach hail from Queens and the Bronx, respectively, and make New York City love look like a breeze. In a busy city with even busier schedules, the two ensure they find time to connect, check-in with one another and keep their bond strong.
Q: What does black love mean to the black community?
Briana: I think black love to the black community is something that's very important, but also something that, I think, is very complicated within the community. We know it exists and we know it's necessary, but there are so many misconceptions about what black love is and means. We all come from such various definitions of black love that we're all just trying to figure it out.
Zach: I agree. I think it's really important to the black community in general, but it's tough. We see it on television and you get a sense that this is what you want to aspire to achieve, and then in real life it's not necessarily that exact thing. So, it's trying to find that perfect balance or example of what it looks like. It's also realizing that nothing needs to be copied, and it's really about making it your own situation.
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?
Zach: We were talking about this earlier, discussing that it's cool to see [black love in the media] now. There is some representation, but it's definitely different than when we were growing up. You can now go to BallerAlert and see “baller couples,” and they have famous couples so it's publicized a lot more versus when we were kids. [Back then] it was like, oh no you're single forever, and then come to find out, these guys have full families behind the scenes. With social media, you get a look behind the curtain of what all these families look like and that they do exist.
Briana: I think it's twofold though. When we were having the conversation it was interesting because when we were young and growing up, Jay-Z was “Big Pimpin’” Hov, and now we're adults and he's 4:44 Hov. The guys who were in my generation were taught “Big Pimpin’” all of those years leading up to this point, and now we're expecting them to be of marriage age, and be ready to be married, and understand what that means. So I do think that's the difference.
Zach: We've always had one show, or one point of reference. My Wife and Kids, The Carmichael Show, Family Matters — but we need more. There's never been huge representation.
Briana: But we also have to think about what the media is now. There's TV and music, but there's also social media. I think that's where a lot of the complications of black love comes into play. There's this celebration of love, but then there is also access to so many different types of women and men — just so much more access. So whereas before you were confined to your immediate circumstances, you're now exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly, which adds a few more layers to the complexity of black love.
Q: What’s the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?
Briana: What makes it difficult for me as a woman is social media. Naturally you want to always feel like you are number one, the best, your man only has eyes for you. While we know that's not true, because we're human, it still feels good. Social media now brings everything to your face. It's different when your father was out doing whatever and your mom didn't know. [Now] social media brings it right to you. It's a weird feeling for it to be in your face. It's not a conversation happening with your mate and their friends, it brings it to you. So you have to decide, am I just going to be confident? Should I be upset about him liking a photo? Does it matter? And then you feel kind of dumb inside.
Zach: From a guy's perspective, it means nothing. I don't want to be with her. Women will quantify a two second like to a deeper meaning. But we communicate differently as men and women, so there's that.
Briana: Another difficulty is the pressure. Back in the day people were married young. Right now we live in NYC, we're both equally driven, but people always bombard us with questions of what's next in terms of marriage and children. If I'm honest, now I feel ready, but we've been in a relationship for seven years, and three years ago, I was not ready. If you're in a relationship, going back to black love, because people feel like it's so special to see black people in long term relationships, there's this silent pressure of "ya'll gotta make it."
Zach: I hate that I feel pressure because you shouldn't feel pressure from anyone. They don't know anything about us except what they see, so for me to take something someone else says and internalize it, no. At the end of the day we have to do what's best for us. In the long run, this is the best route to go because we're looking at setting things up for the long term. You only want to do this once, so there's no need to run into it blindly. That's not how I'm playing it.
Q: Are there any individual relationship struggles that you had to overcome?
Zach: Getting accustomed to what she likes to do, now that we're living together. For instance, she kept leaving her stuff in the bathroom and saying she didn't want to touch the dirty clothes because she was clean and I'm like, "What?" But the way I look at it is, there are things that she does that annoy me and there are definitely things that I do that annoy her. My own mother who birthed me doesn't like some of the things I do, so for me to nitpick is self-serving in many ways. So, it's really just getting past that because it's really not that big of a deal.
Briana: It's so interesting to hear this because before, I used to think that being a good mate meant I'm constantly cooking and cleaning, and Zach would leave his shit all over the house. Everyday I would come and clean the same things until I decided I'm going to do the same things. So the things I know bother him, like me leaving my clothes there, I did! It wasn't a strike, but it did come to a point where he noticed and things were done, so it worked.
Sometimes I do get home before him, but I'm still handling a lot of things. So I had to implement this reality that I cannot handle everything because I would kill myself because trying to do everything. I'm tired and we don't even have children yet. Even though I originally set the precedent that I'd do everything, I realized it had to be reworked because things are changing and I need help.
Q: Previous generations had clear and specific gender roles. How do you two define each other’s roles in your relationship, if at all?
Zach: I don't think there are gender roles per se. There are things that she expects. Like, she doesn't take out the trash and she wants me to drive. It's not like, oh, you have to do this.
Briana: I agree one hundred percent! Before, when I was working and his hours were much longer than mine, we had more clearly defined gender roles, where I would basically be taking care of everything at the house. Now that I have my business, it's become more of a partnership. Because I know he works so much and I know he's tired, I still try to do things like keep the house clean or cook for him, and do the little things that I know he needs. He is a provider, and he does a great job of trying to make time for us to regroup so that we're not just crossing in our busy lives.
Q: Do you feel pressured by your family to be with someone who looks like you?
Zach: No. I have a great family so I never had that [pressure]. I'm the darkest person in my family, and I never grew up with the light skin, dark skin dichotomy that we all are exposed to now. I just like who I like, and my family likes her. They're more concerned with me being happy and being with someone who's good for me, and they believe that she provides that, so there's no need for me to be with someone who looks a particular way. That's not even something that's ever been discussed in our house.
Briana: Growing up in New York, it wasn't a conversation for me at all, but it definitely is with my brothers. I grew up in a predominantly black area and saw black relationships and people who looked like me. They are growing up in a predominantly white area and my mom has to constantly remind them of their own beauty, but also the beauty in their female counterparts.
Q: What is it about having a black significant other that impacts you the most?
Briana: I'm obsessed with Zach, but I just love black men. I love what they stand for. I love their strength. My father is an awesome example of a black man. He always wants to do what's best for and in the interest of my family. My uncles and my grandfathers are the same, so I've always had a positive relationship with black men. I have brothers, so I understand [the] pressure and I just love them!
Zach: I appreciate having a black woman as a partner because she does her best to understand what we go though. She understands that when I come from work, I've been fighting the whole world all day. She's a good counselor when it comes to bouncing ideas and scenarios off of her because she can take a step back, put herself in the position and think of ways to navigate that. That's something I don't think someone from another culture would be able to do.