One of the things I’d like to do on this blog is not only share my personal experiences of trying to find and keep a loving, healthy, black, woman-centered relationship, but also share and dissect some of the ideas that have made a profound impact on my life. One of the concepts that I think about often is the idea of the nuclear family. All my life, mass media has told me that the ingredients for building a happy, healthy family involved a woman, a man, a church, a mortgage, a minivan and children. Oh and this perfect family model was generally white. This model was certainly prevalent in my neck of the woods in suburban Maryland. On my mother’s side of the family, everybody had done what they were supposed to do: get married and produced the requisite heirs to their middle-class fortunes (i.e. 401ks). On my dad’s side, people didn’t get married. They shacked up for like 20 years while the man had multiple children with multiple women. Some would call the primary relationships common-law marriages. I just called it my norm.
U-hauls or How Lesbians Created a Cottage Industry
Until the marriage equality movement started sweeping the nation, queers like us couldn’t legally marry. Some had ceremonial commitments or civil unions. Desperate to create some semblance of familial commitment, others of us partook in the lesbian u-haul syndrome. We all joke about it but many of us have experienced it in one way or another. The scenario goes a little something like this: two lesbians meet, have an instant connection, immediately get booed up, start spending every free moment together and within months, if not days, they have moved in together. I talked to a friend about this the other day and in her last relationship, her girl just moved in on the sneak tip. They didn’t talk about it or plan it. The girl lived with her mother and when they spent time together at my friend’s house, it just didn’t make sense to go home and then come right over again the next day.
The Hetero Trap
I lived with two girlfriends. Nothing about either experience really hinted of a U-haul. The first time I moved in with a girlfriend, we talked about it, planned it out and after two and a half years of dating, decided that it was time that we moved to the next level. She wanted to get married, but I was not comfortable with the idea of marriage. That should have been my first clue. The relationship didn’t last very long past the move-in date. The second time I moved in with a girlfriend occurred about 10 months into our relationship. Again, she wanted marriage, but I didn’t want to. I was uneasy about the responsibilities that marriage entailed. She wanted our union to be witnessed and validated by friends and family. I am a private person, so the whole idea didn’t exactly fill me with joy. I was especially uneasy because my partner was ill and had some financial challenges. I was worried about becoming responsible for her bills and home. In any case, I moved in and less than a few months later, realized that I should have trusted my gut and not made this monumental decision. I’m not sure if my gut was uneasy with the relationship as a whole, but after doing some reflection, I realize that I was simply uneasy about playing house. I wasn’t ready for a serious commitment and shacking up was a weak substitute. I was playing house even though we talked about being together forever. Moving in was not only convenient, but it was the right thing to do. Right?
When I met my most recent ex, she was pretty much the only one in her group of friends who was single and childless. She wanted to get married and have children. And I wanted a girlfriend. Thinking back we were clearly not on the same wavelength. If I had been a stronger person, I would have cut things off and settled for friendship. However, I think we were both seduced by the idea of creating what we never had as children—a happy, nuclear family. She was raised by a single mom who never married, and I was raised by a variety of people including a chronically ill divorcee. We both had this fantasy of creating and redefining family. And all around us were beautiful, black, happy-seeming, lesbian couples with toddlers running around underfoot reminding us of what was possible.
I really believe that there was some peer pressure for us to conform to a heteronormative lifestyle. We both bought into it even thought we weren’t quite ready for it all. I really believe that my ex wanted what her friends had, but wasn’t willing to work for it. I wanted a steady Friday night date and wanted no part in any thing that involved me relinquishing my cherished independence. In other words, we wanted the benefits but not the work it took to get there.
There are some critics in the queer community who complain that our move toward same-sex marriage is just the gay community holding up hetero marriage as the ultimate standard and mimicking a standard that fails 50 percent of the time. Some have even said pushing for same-sex marriage is a form of self hatred. These ideas make me worry that this blog is my way of buying into a Perfect Family myth except the players now look a lot like me. Either way I wonder if I’m promoting an exclusive, limited image of what happy, whole accepted relationships looks like. Now that everyone has accepted that Heather can have two mommies, did I just go ahead and replace the man from those childhood family images with a stud/dom/tomboi/aggressive femme? Can Heather now have two mommies and a daddy? Can she have three daddies? Do we all have to put a ring on it? I don’t know.
The goal of this space is simply to share the lives of loving families who are often invisible to the rest of the world. I also would hope that we can continue to expand the definition of what family looks like. After all the queer community has all but blasted to smithereens thousands of years of traditional ideas of what family should look like. And we’ve decided to say, screw tradition and screw ancient, sacred tomes that would punish us and criminalize us for choosing our families. For many of us freedom to dream of, choose and create our own family is sacred.
So what does love look like? What does a healthy, happy relationship look like? For me, the only person that gets to make that decision, at least for my own life, is me. All I know is I’m tired of making Ikea and U-haul rich. I’m tired of half-assed commitments. The next one is for real. There will be no playing house next time. For now I’m not sure what my future family will look like and honestly that definition for me is still evolving. One thing I do know for sure is that I want to see more people like me doing what comes naturally—loving and living and building together and I want to showcase them here in these pages.