Today is a love day, so get your tissues ready.
I love “love,” romantically. I am infatuated with it. I call it in the middle of the night to hear its voice. I drive passed its house. I stand outside its window with my boom box playing emo love songs. I love love.
Because I love love, I don’t accept that love has boundaries or barriers — not race, not religion, not gender. When you love, it is a force of nature outside of your control, like gravity. You are attracted and you fall. Sometimes you land harder than you hoped, but eventually you rise and fall again. You don’t fall for someone of a different hue and suddenly gain the ability to turn love on and off like a light switch, no more than can you force yourself to love someone you don’t. Though, I’m sure we could all agree on how handy that switch would have been with some of our exes, amiright?
I have fallen for a few girls in the different shades of gray. I run too headstrong to stop and think about the complications until I’m already too deep into it to put on the brakes. When you date within the spectrum of the rainbow, there is always a fear that you won’t be accepted because you are the wrong hue. Occasionally, it happens… more than occasionally, it happens. And it sucks. There is nothing worse than loving someone who loves you back and not being able to be together. I imagine it feels something like when you hold two magnets apart. You can feel how badly they want to be together, the sense of urgency, the raw magnetism, the air literally becomes electric. Then you place a glass barrier between them, and if you let go, they will shatter the glass into a million pieces to be together.
Sometimes the glass is too thick to break, and the magnets slowly lose their charge and fall back into the pile of metal. Other times, no matter how thin the veil, the two sides can’t connect, the attraction just isn’t there. I have experienced both.
Emma was white, very Christian, and from a conservative family in Tennessee. I am a black man from Chicago. Our home lives couldn’t have been more different, but we met in a different country where the rules at home didn’t apply. Friendship came easily, love was hard. Long walks from class with friends on our study abroad quickly turned into awkward moments where our friends pretended not to notice how into each other we were. As the program ran down, we were pushed to make a move. I had been reluctant because of the distance back at home because I knew she was someone I would want to keep seeing. She was reluctant because she grew up in a family where race-mixing was considered a sin.
The air between us was tense with love and guilt. She broke down into tears after our first kiss, then she explained why we could never work — her family would disown her over my color. After that, we had a two-week long goodbye, where, instead of separating, we only grew closer. We grew bolder, too, and more hopeful. We decided to try the long distance thing. We strategically leaked details about me to her family for weeks, so they would like me color-blindedly. “He goes to a top ranked university… and he is going to grad school in the fall… and has a great big family…and he writes poetry… and he’s everything to me.” I eagerly awaited updates on how the conversations went.
“And he’s black…” she said.
The conversations ended after that. Her mother cried and ran out of the room. Her father threatened her with physical abuse… so much for those Christian values. Things ended in an email. She wrote that our relationship couldn’t continue because she needed her parents’ financial support. I understood and I didn’t pursue her, we would never cross that barrier. And just like that it was all over. No closure, no clandestine meetings, no further communications, just like a light switch, who knew that gravity could be shut off.
The next girl I dated was black, by design. I never wanted to experience what I experienced again, so I made it a point not to. It was simpler to date “my own.” Ashley was black, but grew up in a predominantly white town, then went to a predominantly white college. I was her first black boyfriend. She wasn’t my first black girlfriend, but she was the first in awhile. At our predominantly white college, the black dating pool was small.
At first, it was nice not to stand out. It was nice not to have to fight about race. We appreciated the visible congruence, but that was all we had in common. My blackness was one of Ashley’s favorite things about me. She brought it up constantly. She loved how we looked together, but the longer we were together, the more I saw how dissimilar we were. My blackness was as important to her as it was to Emma but for the exact opposite reason, I gave her a protective cover.
After a month, it became obvious that we weren’t building a home together, we were building shelter. We didn’t talk. We didn’t enjoy each other. I was arm candy, a chocolate covered trophy. We were a reaction to our own individual hurt. Ashley’s last boyfriend would get angry and call her the n-word, my ex couldn’t date me because to her family I was one. The barrier between me and Ashley was a band-aid, yet we could never get close enough. There was no grand attraction. It was a compromise to love without pain — it wasn’t love, it was convenient. It was settling for what’s available instead of seeking out happiness. I couldn’t live like that, so I ended it. I would rather have hardship with someone I cared about than comfort with someone I didn’t. I would fight the next time and every time from then on.
Sometimes being just blue or just red suits you and you don’t need to be anything else. That is fine, too. Maybe you have found the perfect shade of red to match your red. Love is great wherever you find it, but until you find your match, keep an open palette. “Red” is confining when you are more of a rose color, but “red” is the only label you have been allowed. You don’t have to be colorblind. Don’t put yourself into a box that you don’t fit in. My favorite color is purple — it is the coming together of opposites into something new. It is the classic example of love, whether your blue is Capulet or Christian and their red is Muslim or Montague.
I fell in love with a purple. I love the way she loves. I love the way she exists in both worlds. I couldn’t imagine my world without her. I love better because of her. I love love again because of her.
To love love is to give yourself to whoever love sends your way. It is both the ultimate duty and the ultimate freedom — love for the sake of love. Love the person who loves you back, despite your differences. Love the person who makes you laugh, intentionally and not. Love the person who challenges you and is challenging at times that you can’t see yourself without. Love the person who makes you desire the future. Love the person who puts up with your snoring because they would rather barely sleep beside you than sleep without you. Love the person that pushes you into adventure, the person that makes you a better person, and the person that makes you want to be still better. Love them like it is your calling, like it stirs you from your sleep and begs you to put words to page lest you forget them. Don’t love the person you’re supposed to, love the one you do.
Then marry her this October.
Or, you know, whenever 🙂