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: Marissa | 29 | Real Estate Attorney

Him: Chuck | 28 | Creative Photographer and Educator

Relationship Status: Dating, 2 Years

Chuck and Marissa met at a time when Marissa was eager to enjoy her last year in NYC, and Chuck was fresh off shooting New York Fashion Week and cementing his status as an “influencer.” Perhaps not the best timing for her, they both were curious to see where things might lead.

They met at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and Marissa actually thought Chuck was interested in her sister, who was also in attendance. As they were leaving, she could tell that he was trying to quickly say his goodbyes as well. So she lingered a little longer, and made sure to hold the elevator so he could catch up to them. She even walked a step behind as they walked down the block, so the two of them could talk more directly (neither Chuck or her sister remember it that way, but Marissa is convinced). They got to the avenue and went their separate ways.

A few days later, they ended up at the same mutual friend’s house again, pregaming for a night out on the town. Chuck asked that mutual friend what was up with her friend, and she asked which one. He said, “The one that went to Spelman,” referring to Marissa. Later that night, at the party, Chuck was standing in the DJ booth and could see Marissa with a group of girls down on the dance floor. After quite a bit of liquid courage, and knowing he had to run to another event, he finally approached her. Neither one remembers what exactly he said to her, but it ended with Marissa saying, “You won’t know until you shoot your shot!” To make a long story short, they exchanged numbers and ended up on a date a week later.

Now, almost exactly two years later, Marissa lives in Atlanta and Chuck is in NYC, but they are still going strong.

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

Chuck: Around my community there are basketball coaches, neighbors who are in the building, just seeing two black people together, and I feel that community also sets the foundation for what anyone can do, I guess, to obtain black love — if they want it. It’s a sense of community for me.

Marissa: It’s a sense of community, and it’s absolutely a foundation to who we are. I think that our history from Africa, being brought over here, our ancestors were from all different places and didn’t necessarily have the same cultures. But “black” became the culture because of slavery and civil rights and all of that shared experience. I think that black love has to be the foundation, because so many things were ripped from us. Love and family were the only things we were able to hold on to and use to persevere through all of that. I think that it’s important not to lose sight of that because other cultures are embedded in these long histories. Hundreds and thousands of years of Italians, Greeks, whatever — they can rely on that to still be there regardless of who they mix and mingle with. For us, I feel like it’s so important to really hold on to our black community because it’s so fragile; it’s still so young and doesn’t have the strong foundation that other cultures have. It’s important to hold onto black love, nourish it and help it thrive, because it’s the only way for us, as a people, to continue.

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?

Marissa: I think that depends on how you describe “media.” I feel like, when people hear media, they automatically think TV, but there’s also social media. We’re able to see the Gabrielle Unions and Dwyane Wades, even though they’re not on a sitcom. I do think that we have access to it, but I think that’s why the part of the question that says “sufficient” versus “significant” is important. I think that the numbers are there, but I don’t know if it’s sufficient in how it’s communicated. We see them because we want to see them, whereas mainstream media, TV, movies and all that stuff, don’t portray them. We can find them if we’re looking for them, but I don’t know that non-black people are looking for them, so they don’t have as much access to it. I think it’s important for them to see as well, because there’s the myth that there is no black family anymore, or it’s all about interracial, which is important to see too. But I don’t think there’s a sufficient amount in the mainstream media.

Chuck: I agree. When we say media, we talk TV, we talk social media, we talk athletes, we talk celebrities — all of those things. I personally just don't feel like it is a big representation. I feel like you never see two black couples, and if there is a black couple, it’s always filtered with a white woman for a black man, or a very fair skin brother for a black woman. There’s never two dark skinned people. As far as mainstream media today, we have Black-ish and had The Carmichael Show. The latter got pulled, but that was an all-black cast with two different dynamics of black families represented. I feel like that is not something that is used for anything, not even ads. I feel like white people may not know that’s what black love is. It’s something you have to look for, and we have to figure out a way to change that narrative. You shouldn't have to look for it, it should be the norm.

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

Marissa: I think that, as millennials, we have way more options than prior generations. Whether it’s potential significant others, careers, which city to live in, marriage versus non-marriage, kids versus non-kids, we can do what we want — there are no stereotypes anymore. By having all of these options in front of us, it feels harder to make a decision. Harder to decide what’s important to me and what I actually want. Harder to decide what will make me happy at the end of the day, because you and I both have to be happy for us to be happy. I think that it’s the syndrome of having too many options. It’s almost like charting new trails; you have to figure out what’s going to work for you in your situation with no guidance. There’s no rule book anymore. Maybe it’s just that we’re at the age where it’s time to start making decisions and we haven’t had to make these decisions before; we just went with the flow. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it seems like a common thread.

Chuck: To generalize, I think being a millennial in a relationship in this climate, it is very hard to function because there are so many distractions. One, we’re very desensitized to sex appeal and things of sexual nature, so there’s no fantasizing about what to expect because it’s so accessible, easily and rapidly.

For me, I think it’s getting into a routine and, for me, that’s something that’s unorthodox. We’ve been together for a while now, so you know that me having a routine or plan for things is never good. I’m more of an impulse person, jumping straight to what I want to do and not really thinking through the steps to do it. I'm just looking at the end goal. It’s very hard to be in a routine with one person, stick to that routine, believe that routine makes sense and also still understand who I am as an individual, and what I can contribute to our relationship.

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

Chuck: I believe there are no gender roles in this situation, and my belief may be different from [Marissa], but I believe that because it’s literally, like, whatever needs to happen inside the house, happens. I struggle with some things, but we’ve talked about it enough. We’ve communicated with each other enough for it not to be an elephant in the room.

Marissa: I think there’s no gender roles in a very blatant, stereotypical way, such as, you have to take out the trash and I’m going to cook and clean. We both will do those types of things. I think that there’s still hope from me and [Chuck] that the other person would do more stereotypical things. Like, me pushing you to figure things out — like, putting together the tray table stand the other day, because I knew you could do it, you just never had to — to bring those sides of you out. You like the softer “woman” things, that I know I need to work on, and you point out here and there, but it’s not an expectation. It’s just like, “Babe, I would like it if you did more of this…” I don’t think that it’s necessarily because of a gender. I think it’s more so trying to get the best out of that person, and trying to get whatever we need from each other, and not necessarily, “You’re the man of the house, you need to do this.” I think we are much more open, flexible and progressive about it.

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

Marissa: Mine have been, and still are, figuring out what my expectations are. With me being a “21st century, black, independent woman,” I am working within the understanding that I don’t have to live within traditional boxes, and I don’t need a man who wants traditional roles. We are free to figure out what works best for us. However, what I’ve realized from being in this relationship is that it was hard for the “wannabe-feminist” in me to acknowledge that even if something is considered a stereotype, I might actually like things to be that way. For example, I’m often stuck working late hours and you are more than willing to be the one to do things like cook dinner for us. The wannabe-feminist in me is like, “You should be happy that your man’s willing to be home and cook dinner,” but in the back of my mind all I can do is wonder if that is in fact what I actually want. So, it’s that struggle of what I think I should or shouldn’t want in a partner, versus figuring out what I actually do want, and that perhaps what I thought I wanted may not be the case. But that’s also the beauty of flexibility — we are free to figure it out.

Chuck: It’s a few things. I don’t think it’s just one. It’s being honest enough. You may say that I don’t have a problem with that, but I think I have an issue with it because it takes a lot for me to be honest with myself, and then for you to accept it. Also, realizing that I’m not a plan person, and accepting that I need to figure out a way to plan better and be more efficient. I think that’s something that I’m still struggling with. I’m just trying to figure it out, and we’re taking it day-by-day and step-by-step and hoping that it works.

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

Chuck: I do. There were no “pink-toe” girls allowed in my crib.

Marissa: Yet, both of your siblings have non-black significant others.

Chuck: Yeah, it’s weird. My sister’s been out of our house since she graduated high school, so she never lived with us when she met [her husband]. So, technically, he was never in our crib. My brother was in the military and didn’t live with us when he met his wife.

Marissa: So, it’s literally stepping foot in the house?

Chuck: Literally. I feel like that it's discretionary. That term for me just meant that if you live under this roof, don’t bring no white girl home. That’s literally what me and my siblings did. As soon as we left, we did what we wanted, and it worked out for them. They have great significant others, but I think that it’s different [for me]. I feel like I was pressured into it, but I’m glad because it’s something I like, and that made me appreciate it more.

Marissa: I do not think I was pressured. I think that part of the significance that I see in having a black significant other is because my older brothers don’t see it. Well, that’s not fair — I do think it’s what they did that caused me to feel this way, but I think it was all my own personal perceptions and not anything deliberate on their part. I have two brothers, and one is starting to get a rep for not bringing home black girls. While the other has not, to my recollection, brought home any non-black women, his choices have always been really light-skinned. So, from where I stood, it has always been very clear what their preferences were. When the girls were black, they still didn’t look like me or my mom, or most of the women in my family. So, as a kid growing up seeing that kind of thing, you start to internalize it. And to me, that’s the significance of it — what you’re portraying to the people coming up behind you.

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

Marissa: I think it’s envisioning the impact it will have on our children and grandchildren. For example, just the other day, I found out that my niece told her mom that she wants to have straight hair and doesn’t like her kinky-curly hair as much. I think that it’s important to have a significant other who can relate, because what if my niece had said that to my brother instead of my sister-in-law? He would need to be able to explain to her the importance of her hair. I’m not saying a non-black person wouldn’t be able to, but there’s something about that shared experience and shared understanding that I know he’s going to deliver the message the same way I would. It’s also important because they’ll see all this stuff in the media about interracial couples, body images, good/bad hair, etc., or deal with it in school, so it’s important for them to be able to come home and be like, “I don’t care what they said or what I saw on TV, because I have it in front of me.” I want them to experience first-hand the love between black people and give them a foundation so that they do not feel any kind of self-loathing or self-hatred because of the way they look, or the texture of their hair. I’ve never really dated any non-black person, so I can’t say for sure that it would be different, but to me, it’s just never been a question. I think that having grown up around it and seeing how it was so invaluable to me, I would want my children and grandchildren to see it, too.

Chuck: It’s super important to me for a bunch of reasons. One, as a man in my family, it’s important for me, my little cousins, cousins my age and anyone else around me to understand that you should date someone that looks like you. Of course it’s the relatable thing and all of that, but for me, it’s important to procreate with your culture and race. Both of my siblings are married to non-black people, which is cool, that’s their thing, but for me, it’s just important to show that there’s someone in your family who’s still checking for black women. I feel like some men feel ashamed to be into black women because they are shamed by their friends because of the stereotypes attached to black women. I want my son or daughter to be able to understand that it’s important to date someone who looks like you. For me, it’s the standard.

It definitely goes back to a lot of other things: being relatable, coming home telling you I just got stopped by the cops, and, instantly, you already know what the rest of my mood and tone will be from that statement. I don’t have to explain anything to you, you just get it and understand because it’s your culture.