The other night I was speaking to one of my best friends about the politics of how we understand and see what love and loving can look like when it comes to romantic relationships.
I began reflecting on how challenging it is for me to consider the diverse ways that love can look because I feel consistently bombarded with 1 or 2 “ideals” and subconsciously get stuck in these boxes. My love of R&B as a pre-teen left me bombarded with memorized lyrics that told me with unwavering repetition what love definitely looked like:
“I’m saving all my love for you-it was love at first sight-you’re my wifey-you’re all the man i need-There’s no air, no air-I can’t live without you-Ain’t too proud to beg-I have nothing, nothing, NOTHING, if I don’t have you-I’ll never tell a lie-I’m down on bended knees-I’m all cried out-to the end of the road…etc., etc.”
Added to the R&B indoctrination was the same story being told by Hollywood, Bollywood AND Nollywood…and corporate advertisements and magazines and family members; the expectation that everyone desires a particular kind of relationship. This relationship more often than not happened only between young people, (if you were older than 40 you were definitely already married – “old” people don’t date!) was rooted in monogamy, eventually would lead to a bended knee proposal, which would result in an over the top wedding, and some kids (maybe a dog) and lasted (fingers crossed) “until death do you part.”
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this concept of love. There can be so much beauty found within elements of what I described above and the truth is, I do desire and imagine many of them (in my own version) for myself.
However the thing that troubles me is the assumption that this “formula” is what everyone “should” want. And worse, is the bombardment that compels so many to believe that this is the ONLY form that love can exist within – thereby limiting our capacity to imagine all the many ways that love can look and blinding us from potential opportunities of love.
I wanted to share some of my recent inspirations of love and processes of loving that generally don’t get described in R&B songs or included in the advice columns of Cosmopolitan:
Example #1: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
“I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life. And would continue to be, up to the moment she died, 27 years later.” – Diego Rivera
I am fascinated by the legendary love between Mexican visual artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Tumultuous? Definitely. Passionate? Beyond. They were married, divorced and re-married. They possessed a powerful and passionate love for each other but also inflicted a lot of hurt on each other. Challenged with the concept of monogamy as a pre-requisite of marriage, Diego and Frida both had affairs throughout their relationship; Frida had affairs with men and women that include artists such as Josephine Baker and political activists such as Leon Trotsky. Diego had affairs with numerous women, including Frida’s younger sister (hence the divorce). They also supported each other in their artistic growth and nurtured a strength that both recognized was a result of their love. They lived in a home divided into two buildings (one for each of them) that was connected by a bridge; recognizing early on the space that each individual needed (see image below).
Love as passion. Love as intensity.
“I cannot speak of Diego as my husband because that term, when applied to him, is an absurdity. He never has been, nor will he ever be, anybody’s husband.” – Frida Kahlo
Example #2: Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell
“With you Mary,” he said today “I want to be just like a blade of grass, that moves as the air moves it – to talk just according to the impulse of the moment. And I do.” – Khalil Gibran from Mary Haskell’s Journal, January 10th, 1914
I am reading Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet like it is a reference manual for life right now…and my curious mind took me on a journey to investigate what brought him to these reasonings and revelations. It was through this investigation that I learned of Mary Haskell.
Kahlil Gibran. The internationally renowned philosopher and artist. Mary Haskell. The lesser known headmistress and lover of art. Two individuals who never publicly expressed or defined a love that lasted a lifetime. For over 20 years they wrote intimate letters to each other documenting a relationship that was rooted in artistic and intellectual support and growth. He made her the inspiration and muse to many of his written and visual works and she invested money, ideas and editing skills to support his artistic development. Later in life she chose to marry another individual, but the intimate letter-writing correspondence between she and Gibran ceased only upon his death.
Love as intimacy. Love as inspiration.
“…if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Example #3: Gail Marquis and Audrey Smaltz
“She said, ‘I have a marvelous new person!’ ” said Eddie Alfaro, Ms. Smaltz’s longtime hair colorist. “I said, ‘What’s his name?’ And she said, ‘It’s a her!’ I said, ‘Are you happy?’ She said, ‘I’ve never been happier!’ ” – from the article ‘Vows: Gail Marquis and Aurdrey Smaltz’
This third example is a lot more contemporary and a lot less famous. I read an article about this couple in The New York Times and I simply loved it. In my life, I am surrounded by single Black women or unhappily married Black women. Reflecting on this has led to recent repetitive ranting about how much I wish we lived in a society where love was not defined in a tiny box so that these women could open themselves up – even for a moment – to the possibility of exploring other potential forms and experiences of love. Stories like this give me hope:
Two African-American women. Both successes in their own right. Both over 6 feet tall. One is 57 years old and the other is 74 years old. One identified as straight and one identified as queer. They met with little expectation. They connected with open energy. They fell in love…and went with it. Beautiful.
Love as faith in the unexpected. Love as “never too late.”
“She’s my life partner, my lover, my Sweetheart Gentle Giant,” – Audrey Smaltz
Please share your examples (if any) of love that challenges the “formula” 🙂