Struggle Love Is Not A Badge of Honor

A disturbing video came across my news feed the other day. And it wasn’t a street fight or some bloody crime scene, it was in fact a wedding. The video showed a woman crying tears of joy as she prepared to wed her longtime boyfriend of 23 years. The ceremony took place in a North Texas hospital room where the groom had taken up his fight against Stage 4 Colon Cancer. And as family, hospital staff and local news cameras bare witness to the rare occasion, the couple lovingly exchanged their vows.

“Do you Blair, take Pamela to be your lawfully wedded wife,” the officiant queried, “promising to love and cherish, to love in sorrow, sickness and health?” “ I do” replied the groom. And after the bride echoed similar sentiments, the officiant proclaimed the two, one. The couple kissed as friends and family looked on tearfully. “We did it!”, Pamela exclaimed, causing a second round of applause to ensue. And as I watched the video I couldn’t help but to feel sorrow for the both of them. There’s no denying that cancer is crushing. It strips us of loved ones, devastates entire families, and has a well-earned reputation for being nothing short of relentless. Cancer is an unjustifiable offense on human life and to be clear, the groom’s cancer diagnosis is the most tragic part of this story. But what also disturbed me was the less obvious tragedy we’d all just witnessed. The one having less to do with wellness and more to do with weddings.

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The comments affirmed what I’ve always known to be true about society’s understanding of marriage as it pertains to women. We’re conditioned to believe that marriage is something you do FOR a woman, a reward if you will, not something you do WITH a woman. And as commentators applauded the groom for “finally making an honest woman” out of his longtime lover, I thought of the women in my family who had made similar sacrifices. The sacrifice of their time, dignity, and self-respect. No woman should have her relationship expectations and desires dangled in front of her like a carrot in exchange for her undervalued contributions and psychological buoyancy. If a man finds that he cannot offer a woman what it is she requires to be content in relation with him, even if that be marriage, he should in fact move on. Not because he doesn’t love her, but because people have a right to have their needs met in relationships without being made to feel guilty for it, and black women need to hear this the most.

We are consistently told that we should ask for little and accept less. We’re labeled gold diggers and social climbers if we dare desire partners who are providers, something women of other nationalities have done and continue to do for the betterment of future generations. And we’re regularly told that the things we desire are out of reach, out of touch or simply out of our league, marriage being one of those things. Black Women are constantly bombarded by statistics and studies proclaiming that we’re marrying less frequently, marrying less stably, and divorcing more commonly than their peers, and the underlying suggestion is that we should lower our expectations if we hope to find (and keep) a man. And this is reflected in Black media, Black film, Black television and Black music.

The Ride or Die chick isn’t a myth. She’s a grown woman now. She’s our aunties, our cousins, our mothers, truthfully she’s some of us. She’s the caveat to every 20 year dead end relationship, the exception to every rule. She’s the pinnacle of holding a man down, devoting her life to proving her worthiness to a person who has chosen not to see it, finally having all her resilience pay off in the final hour. And when the man finally comes around, it will be a result of his deflated perception of himself, not because of an inflated perception of her. A man who waits until his health has run out only to commit to you in his sickness is asking you to fulfill vows that he himself is incapable of. Marriage doesn’t just mean help me get through my worst, it means benefit from me at my best.

There’s a reason marriage is a social concession for men but a social achievement for women. And maybe the reason is that these relationships were never intended to be mutually beneficial. As women struggle to walk a fine like between housewife and harlot, men are encouraged to sow their royal oats by engaging in things they actually enjoy like partying and casual sex. The idea that marriage is the end of things for men is not uncommon, particularly in the Black American community. And far too often, Black men assert that marriage is for timeworn men who’ve exhausted their better years and tighter options, not for men who still have things to lose… or gain. The notion that after you’ve had your reckless fun in life, you latch onto some man’s daughter and burden her with the aftermath of those reckless decisions is not amiss in black social circles. And because patriarchy assesses women’s worth based on their attachment to men, Black women knowingly take the shitty deal and are applauded for doing what many others would scoff at.

If Black women are going to get married anyway, knowing the demands society puts on us both as Black women and as wives, we should do so under the best circumstances for us. Marriage already requires more labor, more sacrifice, more change, and more give from the woman, at the very least, it should be done when the partnership is in its’ most productive state, not when only one person is capable of contributing. That doesn’t make you a partner at all actually, it makes you a caretaker, and that is a role Black women have played for far too long. Marriage isn’t the prize you get for being the last woman standing after a man has exhausted all other resources. If we keep allowing ourselves to be convinced that love is all we need, that a piece of a man is better than no man at all, and that later is better than never (none of which is true), we’ll continue to accept relationships that lack purpose and reciprocity.

Marriage is about sickness and health, yes, good times and bad, absolutely. But marriage, at its core, is a legally binding agreement intended to offer equal social benefits to a team of two people who agree to work together for the betterment of themselves and society. It’s not a charitable act and it’s certainly not a favor. No amount of struggle or endurance makes you a worthy candidate to a man who sees marriage as a social reward for your suffrage. Struggle love will never pay you back everything it requires of you to hold onto it, it’s much cheaper to let it go. We are deserving of love that feels good, that affirms us and that meets our expectations, and we shouldn’t be asked to wait decades to get it.

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9 thoughts on “Struggle Love Is Not A Badge of Honor

  1. I’m literally sending this article to every female friend/acquaintance I know.. Everyone needs to see this! 👏🏿👏🏿

  2. @Arah. “The idea that marriage is the end of things for men is not uncommon, particularly in the Black American community.”
    @Arah – Do you include yourself in the Black American community?


  3. @Arah. Thank you for responding. I’ve read and/or skimmed several of your other articles and I see a reoccurring theme – I strong critique of Black American culture and community. My lineage is American descendent of slavery (ADOS) on both sides. I regularly shine the light on the the dark areas of ADOS/Black American life. I am proud to be ADOS and understand ADOS contributions to America and the continent of Africa. I was also raised to believe in Pan Africanism. I believe Black folks from Africa, West Indies, America, South America, etc are all damaged.

    My concern with more recent Black immigrants from the continent of Africa is the rhetoric that their culture is superior and that there was no damage to them. It’s dishonest for any us to say one culture is better than the other.

    I challenge you to explore the false narratives our sisters and brothers from Africa are reciting.
    Write about:
    * impact of colorism / skin bleaching (if Africans are so strong and have such a superior family structure and culture, why do you want to be white)
    * negatives and ignorance of tribalism
    * the horrible weaves and wigs worn by African women. Shouldn’t African women be a natural beauty example for ADOS?
    * the emotional and physical abuse African women experience at the hands of African men especially in relationships
    * the African culture of womanizing and the impact on the family
    * African corruption which takes away opportunities from the masses of Africans
    * the violence Africans commit against other Africans
    * families on the continent deceiving, stealing from and killing family members that are abroad
    * why are most whites and asians protected in Africa?
    * why can’t Africans be better stewards of the continent’s resources? Why the dependency on others (Chinese, etc)
    * why haven’t Africans in Africa shown Black Americans how to get it right?
    * why do so many Africans go abroad to become successful?
    * are Africans jealous that ADOS (former slaves) have had such an impact on the world?
    * why have Africans not taken up the fight for ADOS the way ADOS have fought for Africans?

    I see such high levels of dysfunction in all areas in Africa, it’s embarrassing. Why aren’t Africans doing better in Africa?

    I challenge you to explore positive ADOS/Black American narratives.
    Write about:
    * how we celebrate family (family reunions, etc)
    * how most of us value education. the fact that there are socio economic classes in the black community. Depending on the class, you may or may not see a huge value of education. The Black Americans in my class value education.
    * our support of the continent – ADOS have always been vocal about the oppression of Africans on the continent
    * from Booker T. Washington (he challenged the 1915 African Exclusion Measure) on – Black Americans have purposely opened doors to help Blacks from other continents, islands, etc get to America
    * etc (there are so many positives from ADOS)

    I look forward to your response.

    1. Hi there, Im neither ADOS nor a continental African. These suggestions are likely more suitable for one of the two. Sorry to disappoint. Thanks for reading.

  4. Again, thank you for the response. I realize you were born in America and have a West African father. You should be able to talk about it all if you were truly interested. I am disappointed. So many of your articles paint a negative picture of Black American life. I hoped as a social commentator your writings would cover a more comprehensive viewpoint.
    Thanks again.

    1. Fortunately, there are countless American born Black American writers who speak on the subject matter you’re looking to read, I encourage you to explore their content. I also encourage you to use your voice and platform to speak from your perspective as a Black American and I will continue to do the same. Peace.

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